Airbus Defence and Space has conducted an automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) of a Royal Australian Air Force A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which it says is a world’s first.

The work took place off the coast of Spain in on 20 June, says Airbus. The aircraft conducting the refuelling was Airbus’s A310 development tanker.

During the two-hour test period seven contacts were made.


Airbus Defence & Space

“The system requires no additional equipment on the receiver and is intended to reduce refuelling boom operator workload, improve safety, and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) in operational conditions to maximise aerial superiority,” says Airbus.

“Airbus has begun work towards introducing the system on the current production A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A330 MRTT).”

The system uses image processing to determine the receiver’s refuelling receptacle position. An automated flight control system flies and maintains the boom to align with the receiver.

The A330 MRTT is designated KC-30A in Australian service.


Airbus Defence & Space

In March 2017, Airbus and the RAAF announced they would study ways to add capability to the A330 MRTT.

One area was how to increase automation in the jet’s refuelling boom. This would help alleviate the issue of air refuelling officer (ARO) fatigue, and make boom movements more predictable for the pilots of incoming aircraft.

Now, AROs manipulate two control columns to direct the boom and refuelling arm to the incoming jet. The system envisaged would allow incoming jets to be refuelled with very little ARO intervention.

Canberra has six KC-30As in service and one on order.

Corrected: a previous version of this story inaccurately stated the number of KC-30As in Australian service.