Smiths Aerospace has entered the in-flight refuelling systems market following a deal to supply Boeing with the hose-and-drogue units (HDUs)for 767 tankers.

In a related move, Smiths is set to acquire California-based Able, which has developed the HDU technology, in a $17.5 million cash deal, plus up to $10 million deferred over five years.

Smiths Aerospace strategy and marketing director Bill Mawer says Able has been working with Smiths Aerostructures at Hamble in the UK to offer systems for the 767 tanker programme and, by linking with other businesses, the company has been able to offer an integrated system. Smiths had already secured the mission control system for the 767 tanker, combining flight management, terrain awareness and communications control in one system.

Mawer says the Able-developed HDU uses a hydraulic motor, instead of the more usual electric motor, coupled with an electronic system for more accurate management of the refuelling hose. This will, for instance, allow tension in the hose to be maintained more easily as the receiver aircraft moves relative to the tanker, he says.

Able will be responsible for integrating the pod elements while Hamble will provide structures for the pod. Smiths' Grand Rapids, USA-based organisation will provide systems integration and software engineering. Smiths says that, based on Boeing's prediction of a 500 tanker market over the next 30 years, its potential business could be worth $1 billion.

The first systems will be delivered to Italy, which has ordered four 767s, in 2005, while Japan has also selected the aircraft and Boeing is attempting to secure a 100-aircraft, 10-year lease with the USAir Force. The Smiths system could also be an element of the Tanker & Transport Services Company bid for the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme. The consortium, which is offering 767s and includes Boeing, says it continues to evaluate refuelling equipment.

Cobham - owner of established in-flight refuelling equipment supplier Flight Refuelling, which was also considered for the contract - says it is "disappointed", saying Boeing's high market prediction lowers "entry barriers to competition".

Source: Flight International