Company-funded tanker demonstration to play vital role in US sales drive as it looks to break Boeing stranglehold

EADS Casa will later this month integrate an advanced refuelling boom system (ARBS) with an Airbus A310 trials aircraft as part of an effort that it hopes will break Boeing's monopoly on the global tanker market.

Developed since late 2001 under a company investment worth $90 million, the boom system will be delivered from next year with the Royal Australian Air Force's A330-200 multirole tanker-transports, and offered as part of a campaign to sell the widebody platform to the US Air Force.

Three ARBS have been produced to date, including a full-scale test rig in use at EADS Casa's Getafe plant near Madrid, and prototypes awaiting integration with the company-owned A310 demonstrator at Getafe and delivered to EADS's Manching plant near Munich. The aircraft is expected to undergo its first flight around mid-year after completing structural conversion, which will enable it to carry the 5,000kg (1,100lb) refuelling system, which includes a 1,200kg boom with a deployed length of 17.8m (58.4ft).

The A380 will be equipped with stereoscopic and panoramic cameras, illuminators and two boom operator stations for a trials programme lasting around three months, to start later this year. This is planned to involve European-based Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters and undisclosed larger aircraft, says Francisco Carrasco, EADS Casa's ARBS programme manager. Qualification with the A310 is expected to total 300-400 flight hours, with a total of 500-600 required before delivery of Australia's first boom-equipped A330.

EADS has so far delivered three A310s modified with hose and drogue systems for tanker duties: two to Germany and one to the Canadian Forces, which have ordered four and two conversions respectively. The company is also offering a future tanker upgrade to the Spanish air force's two A310 VIP transports, and hopes to sell additional examples to export customers.

Once certificated, the flight- test aircraft could be retained for further development work, used to support export campaigns such as that in the USA, or sold to an air force customer, says EADS Casa.


Source: Flight International