Airbus Defence and Space has successfully completed an automatic air-to-air refuelling (AAR) demonstration between an A310 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) and an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
During the mission just off the Portuguese coast, Airbus’ A310 MRTT made six automatic contacts with the Portuguese Air Force's F-16 at a speed of 270k.
Both crews reported a faultless operation, which lasted for 1h 15min at an altitude of 25,000ft.
The automatic air-to-air refuelling contacts from a tanker’s refuelling boom were performed for the first time, according to Airbus Defence and Space.
Incubator Laboratory head Miguel Gasco said: “This represents a fundamental advance in boom AAR operations, with the promise of increasing the rate of contacts, and notably reducing operator workload and enhancing safety.
“The automated boom operation is an important pillar of our Smart MRTT development that is already underway.”
The aircraft requires no additional equipment on the receiver, Airbus stated.
The tanker’s air refuelling operator (ARO) was responsible for the initial approach and tracking of the receiver.
The passive techniques such as image processing were used to determine the receiver’s refuelling receptacle position.
Upon activation of the automated system, a flight control system directed the boom towards the receiver’s receptacle.
Airbus Test ARO David Piatti said: “The most important thing was that the system could track the receptacle. It was very satisfying because it worked perfectly and we could perform the contacts with the automation switched on as planned. It will certainly reduce workload, especially in degraded weather conditions.”
The telescopic beam inside the boom can be controlled manually by the ARO, a relative distance-keeping mode or full auto-mode to perform the contact.
Image: The first automatic contact between the A310 MRTT demonstrator and the F-16. Photo: courtesy of © Airbus DS GmbH.