There was news last week of two long-delayed air-refueling tanker contracts. The Italian air force (AMI–Aeronautica Militare Italiano) formally accepted into service two of the four Boeing KC-767 tanker-transports that it ordered more than eight years ago. But Airbus Military conceded that another few weeks will likely pass before the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) accepts its first two A330MRTTs.
The two KC-767s had previously been handed over to the AMI on December 29 last year and the second on March 10. They have been used for training since then. The third aircraft is due for delivery in the summer, with the last arriving before the end of the year.
When the four KC-767s were ordered in December 2002 the schedule called for delivery in 2005. The first aircraft flew on May 21 that year following tanker conversion at Wichita, while the second was being converted by Aeronavali in Italy. As refueling trials got under way problems were encountered, and fuel was not passed by the centerline boom until March 2007. However, it was the underwing refueling pods and their pylons that caused the most problems and the longest delays. Italy’s aircraft are based on the 767-200ER, similar to the version originally selected by the U.S. Air Force in its first attempt to find a KC-135 replacement. They feature boom and hose-drogue units in the rear fuselage and two WARP wing pods, and also have a boom receptacle above the flight deck. The aircraft are powered by General Electric CF6-80 engines and have a convertible combi interior that allows them to carry cargo, passengers or a mix of both.
The RAAF was the launch customer for the A330MRTT in December 2004. It was expecting to receive the first of five aircraft more than two years ago. But Airbus Military underestimated the technical and human resources necessary to complete the development on time, chief executive officer Domingo Urena admitted to journalists last week. Civil and military certification of the pod and boom-equipped Australian A330MRTT version was finally achieved in March and October last year, respectively. But the boom of the first Australian aircraft broke off during further refueling trials in Europe with an F-16 last January. Airbus Military said this week that human error was to blame. However, it has subsequently modified some software in the remote visual display used by the boom operator “to provide better feedback under certain conditions,” a company official said. The second and third RAAF aircraft are ready for delivery from Madrid, but the two sides are still haggling over compensation.