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The manufacturer Airbus has developed an automatic air-to-air refueling system (Automatic Air-to-Air Refueling, A3R) for the multi-purpose transport and tanker aircraft A330 MRTT (Multi Role Transport Tanker) and tested it in flight with a Portuguese F-16 fighter aircraft. This - according to Airbus - the world's first A3R solution can now be implemented in the A330 MRTT.

Requiring no additional equipment on the receiving aircraft, the A3R system is designed to reduce air refueling operator (ARO) workload, improve safety and optimize the speed of air refueling under operating conditions, thereby helping to maximize air superiority. The goal for the A3R system is to develop technologies that achieve fully autonomous capabilities.

Once the system is activated by the ARO, the A3R automatically flies the boom, maintaining alignment between the boom tip and the receiver mount to within a few centimeters. The correct orientation and the stability of the receiver are checked in real time. This allows the safety distance between boom and receiver to be maintained. In addition, the optimum time for extending the telescopic carrier is determined in order to achieve connection with the receiver.

At this point, fuel transfer is initiated to replenish the receiver aircraft, and after decoupling is complete and instructed, the boom is retracted away from the receiver by retracting the telescoping beam and flying the boom away to maintain a safe separation distance. The ARO monitors the process.

As part of the campaign, a total of 45 flight test hours and 120 dry contacts with the A3R system were achieved over the Atlantic Ocean, covering the entire aeronautical range for air refueling. The approval phase will begin in 2021.

Gerhard Heiming