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PICTURES: Airbus Military completes first A330 tanker flight for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's first A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) has made its first flight in modified form, touching down on 15 March at the end of a 4h 15min sortie.

Conducted by an Airbus Military crew from a site near Madrid, the debut comes ahead of the company's planned delivery of the Royal Saudi Air Force's first of six aircraft late this year.

"The crew reported that the aircraft, its systems and two General Electric CF6 engines performed entirely satisfactorily," says Airbus Military. The company has previously flown modified A330 MRTT aircraft for Australia (three) and the UK (two), and is also modifying its first unit for the United Arab Emirates.


Both images © Airbus Military

Now equipped with underwing hose and drogue refuelling pods and an advanced refuelling boom system, the aircraft was modified by Iberia Maintenance engineers and technicians. The conversion work totalled some 140,000 man hours over a period of 16 months, the company says.

“It is a great satisfaction for us to have successfully completed a project which is certainly the biggest challenge we have ever faced in the transformation of aircraft,” says José Luis Ruiz de Castañeda, Iberia’s executive vice-president maintenance and engineering.

© Iberia

Airbus Military says Saudi Arabia's new tanker will enter a period of final certification and qualification activities ahead of its delivery. The nation's second aircraft is already in conversion, while work on a third will begin in mid-2011, it adds.Meanwhile, the company says the first two of the Royal Australian Air Force's five delayed GE-engined tankers are "technically complete and ready for delivery to the RAAF in Getafe, pending finalisation of contractual discussion".

The EADS unit had previously planned to hand the pair over late in 2010, but suffered a setback earlier this year, when one of Canberra's aircraft suffered limited damage during a night-time training incident with a Portuguese air force Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter.

Part of the tanker's refuelling boom separated from the aircraft and fell into the sea following a collision, although the A330 and F-16 both returned safely to their operating bases.

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