Airbus and Singapore have commenced work on an automatic air-to-air refueling (A3R) A330 MRTT aircraft which will apply for certification by 2021.
The A3R system requires no additional equipment on the receiver 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 to maximise aerial superiority.
Once the A3R system is activated by the ARO, the Boom Flight Control System becomes fully automated and progresses to transfer fuel upon contact with the receiver. During this process, the ARO simply monitors the operation. In the event of an anomaly due to receiver stability deviations or malfunctions on the tanker, the A3R system is able to disconnect and/or clear the Boom away from the receiver safely.
On the receiver end, pilots closing in to the tanker take visual cues from the automated Pilot Director Lights (PDL). This feature allows for more efficient operations, with smoother transitions and minimises time during the coupled state.
The A3R development paves the way towards a fully autonomous aerial refuelling operation.
In July 2018 Airbus demonstrated that A3R was feasible as a product after the achievement of the world’s first automated contact with a Boom system. In a joint operation with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the company’s A310 development tanker performed seven automated contacts with a RAAF KC-30A MRTT, also made by Airbus.