Airbus Defence and Space Military Aircraft (Outdoor Exhibit 13) has announced that it will begin deliveries of an improved version of the A330 multi-role tanker transport in late 2017. The initial A330 MRTT Enhanced aircraft will be the first of six that were ordered by Singapore earlier this year. Subsequent production aircraft will all be of the new version.
In part, the introduction of the A330 MRTT Enhanced has been forced by changes implemented on the main A330 airliner production line at Toulouse, which is introducing a range of improvements beginning next year. These include structural enhancements, aerodynamic alterations to reduce fuel-burn, and an avionics pack including Power-8 computers and new display screens.
Although conversion of used aircraft to MRTT status is an option, all A330 tankers so far have been produced by conversion of “green” aircraft, and the majority of expected sales would also be of new-build aircraft. As Toulouse production switches to the new version of the airliner, so tanker derivatives will also change. This necessitates some alterations to the existing military modifications to adapt them to the new aircraft configuration.
While Airbus DS is attending to these necessary changes, it has taken the opportunity to introduce other enhancements, such as upgrades to the mission and mission planning systems.
The new aircraft will also have the Boom Upgrade 3 software, as detailed below, as well as an improvement to the boom visual system. At the same time, solutions will be adopted for Mode 5 IFF for those nations cleared to move up to this standard, and also for the implementation of ADS-B. The latter is to be mandatory for civil operations by 2019. Some of these upgrades will be available for the initial batch of 28 aircraft that have been ordered by the first four customers.
Airbus DS is approaching the end of the conversion process for those aircraft, 19 of which are now in service. The UAE has received all three aircraft on order, and is using them to refuel F-16s and A330s from the boom, and Mirage 2000s from the wing pods. Australia has also received all of its five KC-30A aircraft, although two are currently at the main Airbus conversion center at Getafe, Spain, flying in support of the Boom Upgrade 3 program.
Upgrade 3 is primarily a software upgrade that adds a new set of control laws to enable the fly-by-wire boom to be more accurate when refueling large receiver aircraft, which create a powerful bow wake that influences the boom. As well as the new control laws, the upgrade includes a refined interface with revised boom operating control stick and new, simpler displays.
Specified by Australia, the Upgrade 3 is being jointly funded by the customer and Airbus DS. The RAAF’s first aircraft (MRTT 1) is the lead platform for the upgrade, and was joined by the RAAF’s MRTT 5 in March to support testing. This aircraft acts as the large aircraft receiver during trials. Test flying is now complete, and certification flights began in early June.
Saudi Arabia has received four of its six MRTTs, the most recent in April. The fifth is now in conversion at Getafe and the sixth is being converted by Iberia. The Spanish airline’s technical division has already converted three A330 MRTTs under contract to Airbus DS, and has another three under contract. The Getafe plant provides three hangars for MRTT conversion, while Iberia adds another two hangars to provide an overflow capacity.
Illustrating the capability offered by the A330 tanker/transport, the Royal Saudi Air Force recently undertook its first major deployment with the type. Two A330 MRTTs used the aircraft’s boom system to refuel eight F-15 Eagles on a deployment to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a Red Flag exercise. The deployment trail was undertaken in three legs, stopping at Morón in Spain and McGuire AFB, New Jersey. As well as boom refueling the F-15 and MRTT, the Saudi aircraft are also cleared to refuel Tornado and Typhoon fighters from the wing pods.
By the end of May the operational A330 MRTT fleet had notched up over 20,000 hours and 6,430 flight cycles. Making up the lion’s share of those figures is the RAF’s Voyager fleet, which has replaced both the VC10 and TriStar in RAF service. The RAF has received nine of its 14 aircraft, one of which is civil registered.
Voyagers have been used intensively since entering service, and have posted impressive aircraft availability rates of around 99 percent. The type is used for regular air transport duties, as well as protected air transport involving the DAS (defensive aids suite). The type has received a 180-minute ETOPS/METOPS clearance, and in early June the RAF cleared the Voyager for METOPS-AAR (extended-range twin-engine operations on the military aircraft register for air-to-air refueling).
Refueling of Typhoons and Tornados is cleared for the Cobham 905E wing pods, while recently the Cobham 805E fuselage refueling unit (FRU) has been approved for tanking the Hercules C.Mk 4/5. Tests of refueling the Typhoon and Tornado from the FRU have been undertaken, but clearance for the Hercules was considered a greater priority.
At the start of this month trials began of refueling the A400M transport using the FRU. Although initial trials have been flown with this combination, there were no wet contacts. The RAF has provided aircraft FSTA 1 for these clearance trials, which will take place primarily in Spain.