The A400M’s planned evolution into a tactical tanker made a significant advance last week with the confirmation of an initial inflight refuelling equipment order from lead partners France, Germany and Spain.
Worth more than €85 million ($100 million), the commitment from Airbus Military will see Cobham subsidiary Flight Refuelling (FRL) of the UK develop and manufacture a new version of its 900-series hose-and-drogue wing pod for the European airlifter.
Selected ahead of rival offerings from Intertechnique/Israel Aircraft Industries and Smiths, FRL will produce 58 new 908E wing pods – 10 shipsets each for France and Germany and nine for Spain. Using the same electric architecture as the 900-series system now in development for the UK’s Airbus A330-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft, the new “smart pod” will contain all the required inflight refuelling control electronics and will interface with its host aircraft’s avionics via an optical link, says Rory Linehan, FRL’s vice-president, business development. “The conversion cost is basically the cost of the pods,” he says.
FRL will also produce six centreline hose drum refuelling units for Germany’s A400Ms and five for France as part of its 12 December contract. Linehan says a major challenge will be to develop a variable-drag drogue for the 130t A400M that will be capable of operating across its refuelling envelope of 100-300kt (185-555km/h) and allow it to refuel both transport helicopters and fighter aircraft.
Lineham notes that Cobham’s Sargent Fletcher subsidiary is already under contract to produce a 900-series pod to span the 100-200kt bracket for US Special Operations Command’s Lockheed Martin MC-130H Combat Talon IIs. FRL will conduct a preliminary design review for the 908E system next year and produce its first test hardware in 2007, he says.
France, Germany and Spain have placed combined orders for 137 of the 180 A400Ms on order for delivery to seven European nations – also including Belgium, Luxembourg, Turkey and the UK – from 2009. A further 12 are under contract for export customers Malaysia and South Africa, which 2005 signed contracts for four and eight, respectively.
CRAIG HOYLE / LONDON