Paris Air Show

EADS elbows into tanker fray

 - June 17, 2007, 8:27 AM

EADS Military Transport Aircraft (MTA) has set its sights on half of the aerial-refueling-tanker market estimated at 600 aircraft for 30 countries over the next 20 years and has brought the first of four A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) airframes for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) here to underline its capability in the field.

The U.S. dominated the market for 50 years, first with Boeing’s KC-135 and subsequently with tanker derivatives of the DC-10, TriStar and C-130. Now, said Carlos Suarez, vice president of military derivative programs of Airbus aircraft, at a briefing Friday in downtown Paris, the many aging fleets around the world have opened the window to competition.

EADS is the only company with a family of tankers, Suarez said. MRTT versions of both the A310 and the A330 are available with optional tanker kits, comprising underwing pods for the probe-and-drogue method used by European air forces and the U.S. Navy, or the boom favored by the U.S. Air Force and other operators of American fighters. The RAAF airplane has both.

The boom was developed by EADS CASA and is being demonstrated here by a company A310 in the Monday and Tuesday flying displays. Nearly 60 feet long and with fly-by-wire controls, it offers a larger refueling envelope than the KC-135’s boom and has a roll and pitch joint for improved controllability plus an automatic load alleviation system. It is operated via a 3-D video system by a boomer at a control station on the flight deck and can transfer fuel at up to 1,500 gallons per minute, though the normal rate is 1,200 gallons per minute.

The boom program was launched in September 2002 and the test aircraft has accumulated more than 105 flight hours in more than 57 flights so far.

The armed forces of six countries operate A310s and two– Canada and Germany–have the refueling capability. Both types can be fitted with fuel receptacles to allow the tanker itself to be refueled aloft.

The big target for the A330 is the U.S. Air Force requirement to replace its KC-135s, which pits an A330 MRTT primed by Northrop Grumman against a tanker version of the Boeing 767. “We are lucky to have the A330-200 as a platform,” Suarez said. “It has the same wing as the [four-engine] A340 so we can mount the refueling pods in the outer engine positions. It has a large freight capacity and a huge fuel capacity of up to 111 tons, while leaving the lower deck free for cargo and the upper deck for troops.

The first A330 MRTT, on display in the static park, was rolled out of the conversion center at Getafe, near Madrid on June 13. The launch customer, the Royal Australian Air Force, will receive this aircraft later this year. The remaining four ordered in December 2004 will be converted in Australia by Qantas. The MRTT is equipped with a centerline refuelling boom and two underwing hose and drogue pods. An electronic warfare countermeasures system and Link 6 communications network system are also fitted.

Earlier this month the UK government approved the private finance initiative scheme under which a joint venture between EADS and Rolls-Royce, plus minor shareholders Cobham, Thales and VT, will provide the Royal Air Force’s A330-based future strategic tanker aircraft. And at the IDEX defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February the United Arab Emirates declared EADS the preferred bidder for a contract covering three A330 MRTTs. A few days before, the A330 MRTT had also been selected by the royal Saudi air force.