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Airbus completes development of automatic refueling system for A330 MRTT

RSAF A330 MRTT tankers testing the A3R automatic refueling system
Photo: Airbus

The Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft has come one step closer to offering automatic refueling capability after the completion of the development phase.

Airbus said the milestone was achieved after a series of trials that were performed with the Republic of Singapore Air Force and Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) in early 2021.

Airbus and Singapore announced a collaboration on the development of the A3R system in February 2020. The company said the idea behind the automatic refueling system was to reduce air refueling operator (ARO) workload, improve safety and optimize the rate of air-to-air refueling (AAR) transfer in operational conditions to maximize aerial superiority.

The trials in Singapore saw a RSAF A330 MRTT equipped with the A3R automatic refueling system carry out multiple evolutions with several receivers from the RSAF, including another A330 MRTT and fighter aircraft like the F-16 and F-15SG.

During the trial, a total of 88 fully automated dry and wet contacts and transfers of nearly 30 tons of fuel were successfully executed, including the first fully automated operations with another A330 MRTT and RSAF F-16D/F-16D+ receivers.

All tests required for A3R Data Gathering with the F-15SG, including operational flights to demonstrate the A3R performances in a mission representative scenario were also completed.

“We had the opportunity to test our system with different receiver types ensuring the right fit of our systems, while gathering extensive data key to completing the A3R development,” Luis Miguel Hernández, Airbus SMART MRTT Manager, said. “The team were able to test the limits of the system successfully, verifying its robustness and ability to automatically track receivers with varying configurations.”

Photo: Airbus

Singapore ordered six A330 MRTT from Airbus in 2014 and received the first airframe in 2018. The fleet reached initial operational capability in April this year.

Revealed to the public in 2018, the A3R included several aeronautic ‘world firsts’ such as the first automated contacts. In a joint operation with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) an Airbus’ A310 company development tanker performed seven automatic contacts with a RAAF KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport. More recently, in 2020, Airbus announced the first ever fully automatic refueling operation with a boom system. The flight test campaign involved an Airbus A310 tanker testbed aircraft with an F-16 fighter aircraft of the Portuguese Air Force acting as a receiver.

Airbus said the successful campaign would allow the program to advance to the next phase, including readiness of the final A3R version and preparation for a roadmap that will lead to certification by the end of 2021.