Airbus demos auto air-to-air refuelling contacts
Airbus Defence and Space has successfully demonstrated automatic air-to-air refuelling (AAR) contacts with a fighter aircraft using the A310 MRTT's refuelling boom, the company announced on 9 May.
During the 21 March flight off the Portuguese coast, the Airbus A310 MRTT aircraft performed six automatic contacts with a Portuguese Air Force F-16 in flight conditions of 270KT and 25,000ft over a one hour 15 minute test period. Both crews reported smooth and simple operation.
The automatic system is designed to reduce boom operator workload, improve safety and optimise the AAR rate in operational conditions to maximise combat efficiency. It does not require any additional equipment on the receiver.
Initial approach and tracking of the receiver is performed by the tanker's Air Refuelling Operator (ARO) as usual. Innovative passive techniques such as image processing are then used to determine the receiver's refuelling receptacle position and when the automated system is activated, a fully automated flight control system directs the boom towards the receiver's receptacle. The telescopic beam inside the boom can be controlled in a range of ways including: manually by the ARO; a relative distance-keeping mode; or full auto-mode to perform the contact.
According to Airbus, the system could be introduced on the current production of A330 MRTT in 2019.
The imaging technology underlying the automatic AAR technique was initially developed for refuelling satellites in space or for space debris removal. The technique was further developed and applied by Airbus Defence and Space's Incubator Laboratory for the tanking application.
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