"The boom project was a natural evolution from our involvement in tanker aircraft", says Rafael Acedo, head of programmes at EADS's Military Transport Aircraft division (MTAD). "It was obvious that Boeing wouldn't readily supply us with booms to enable us to compete with them, so we decided to launch our own project." A state-of-the-art refuelling boom system was essential to ensure the competitiveness of EADS's new tanker aircraft. "All USAF-origin fighters require refuelling by boom," says Acedo. "There are very few countries that have no USAF-origin fighter aircraft. Even in Europe, most air forces have mixed-origin fleets that include such US aircraft."

The solution is the Advanced Refuelling Boom System (ARBS). Research and development for ARBS was launched in late 2001, before any firm orders were in place. A full-scale ARBS rig will be commissioned at Getafe in the last quarter of this year. An Airbus A310 has been acquired for use as a prototype and its conversion as a tanker fitted with the ARBS will start by the end of the year. Demonstration flights are scheduled for the second half of next year. Excluding the prototype, the programme is costing €68 million to develop.

 The ARBS, with a reach of 17m (56ft), will deliver 4,550 litres/min (1,200 USgal/min) and will have full fly-by-wire control, including an automatic load alleviation system to compensate for turbulence during refuelling. In contrast to existing systems, where the operator must lie on the aircraft's floor to position the boom, the ARBS operator will be located in the cockpit area and will be able to monitor refuelling operations - whether during the day or at night - via a 3D vision system. The final telescopic fuel delivery tube will be metallic but, wherever possible, the boom system's mechanical components will be made from carbonfibre composites.

 The first customer for the ARBS will be the Australian air force, whose A330 MRTTs (see main report) will be fitted both with the new system and with underwing hose-and- drogue pods.

 "It's the first time we have developed a new system from scratch," says Acedo. Formulating the initial operational concept has taken longer than expected, but the ARBS scheme is now "on budget and on schedule".


Source: Flight International