• A330 MRTT refuels a RSAF F-16D. (Airbus/ MINDEF)
    A330 MRTT refuels a RSAF F-16D. (Airbus/ MINDEF)

The Airbus A330 MRTT has become the world’s first tanker to be certified for automatic air-to-air refuelling (A3R) boom operations in daylight following a successful campaign in collaboration with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Certified by the Spanish National Institute for Aerospace Technology (INTA), this capability is part of the new SMART MRTT developed by Airbus. The A3R system requires no additional equipment on the receiver aircraft and is intended to reduce air refuelling operator (ARO) workload, improve safety and optimise the rate of air-to-air refuelling (AAR) transfer in operational conditions.

“The certification of the A3R capability is the result of a successful journey that started in 2018 with the world’s first automated contact with a boom system in a joint operation with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)," Jean-Brice Dumont, Head of Military Air Systems at Airbus Defence and Space said. "Since then, we’ve achieved more aeronautical “world firsts” thanks to the support of our customers, especially with the key participation of our partner the RSAF, a launch customer and the first operator to benefit from this game-changing capability. The A330 MRTT continues to increase its technological advantage with superior air refuelling capabilities.” 

Through the collaboration between Airbus and the RSAF for the development of the SMART MRTT, an RSAF A330 MRTT took part in the development, flight test campaign and certification of the A3R. In addition, enhanced maintenance capabilities have been developed, reportedly allowing faster resolution of ground tasks, while providing the means for maximising the efficient use of spare parts.

The evolution of the A330 MRTT continues through the launch of 'Auto'Mate'. Launched through Airbus subsidiary Airbus UpNext, Auto’Mate is a demonstrator designed to develop, adapt, mature, integrate and evaluate technologies enabling Autonomous Assets Air-to-Air Refuelling (A4R) and Autonomous Formation Flight (AF2) operations. Auto’Mate will focus on automating the receiver aircraft’s tasks, which requires a set of new technologies that are the pillars of the UpNext Auto’Mate demonstrator.

According to Airbus, these will be tested in flight during 2023 with a final end-to-end demonstration mid-2024, using in both cases an A310 as the Tanker Refuelling Flight Test Bed and DT-25 Target Drones as receiver aircraft. Airbus says the set of technologies developed in the Airbus Auto’Mate demonstrator aims to enable a 'disruptive step forward' in the autonomy level of current Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) operations, to reduce crew fatigue and training costs, improve safety and efficiency, and pioneer Unmanned Air-to-Air Refuelling operations (including Unmanned-to-Unmanned AAR operations). Auto´Mate is the first UpNext demonstrator to be launched, developed and concluded in Spain.

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