By Luca Peruzzi in Genoa

The Italian air force expects to acquire an in-flight refuelling capability for its fleet of 12 short-fuselage Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transports by year-end, the service says.

The first aircraft from the Pisa-based 46th Airlift Brigade to be equipped with hose-and- drogue refuelling pods is currently involved in flight trials in the USA, and is expected to gain certification within the next few weeks. Once achieved, the tanker-configured aircraft will return to Italy for additional technical and operational trials to be conducted by the air force's flight-test unit at Pratica di Mare near Rome.

Italy has selected the same refuelling kit that equips the US Marine Corps' KC-130Js, including two Sargent Fletcher pods capable of refuelling fast jets, slow fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters at speeds between 105kt (195km/h) and 250kt.

Another five refuelling kits are expected to be delivered this year, with all 12 C-130Js to eventually receive the modifications.

The air force's modified aircraft will be capable of providing fuel to two aircraft simultaneously at altitudes up to 19,700ft (6,000m). Maximum offload capability will be 32,540 litres (8,600USgal) at a maximum rate of 1,130 litres/min. The aircraft will also be configured to accept a fuselage tank if required, with this to add a further 13,600 litres of fuel.

Italy's 12 C-130Js and 10 stretched-fuselage C-130J-30s have so far accumulated over 43,000 flight hours supporting national and out-of-area operations in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Source: Flight International