Airbus Defence and Space has successfully flight-tested its automatic air-to-air refueling (AAR) contact system, and claimed a world first. The boom of the company’s A330 MRTT demonstrator was steered into the receptacle of a Portuguese air force F-16 using image processing software that the company has been developing for more than a year.
The test took place on March 21, but the company just announced the milestone. Six contacts were made over a one-hour, 15-minute period, at 25,000 feet and 270 knots. The initial approach and tracking of the receiver was performed by the tanker’s air refueling operator (ARO), as usual. He then activated the fully automatic flight control system that steered the boom into the F-16’s receptacle. The ARO can retain control of the boom’s telescoping, if required.
“This represents a fundamental advance in boom AAR operations,” claimed Miguel Gasco, head of the Airbus D&S Incubator Laboratory. He said that the technique would increase the rate of contacts, enhance safety and reduce operator workload, especially in degraded weather conditions. The F-16 pilot said that the contact was “very precise and expeditious. You can notice the difference.”
The system requires no additional equipment on the receiver. It could be introduced on current production A330 MRTTs as soon as 2019. A total of 51 of these tankers has now been ordered by nine countries.