An Airbus A400M tanker plane successfully refueled two French Eurocopter EC725 Caracal (Airbus H225M) helicopters mid-air.
France is the only European country to undertake C130J-Caracal refuelling. The Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) conducted the EC725-A400M refueling in the southwest of France from March 22 to April 2, 2021.
The objective of this campaign was to certify the A400M's ability to refuel helicopters, day and night. Eight flights took place, one with two helicopters in simultaneous refueling as well as two night flights. Totally, 25 hours of test flights were conducted with nearly 80 contacts taking place between the two aircraft. Several tons of fuel were transferred, French defense ministry said on April 19.
The ministry added that the tests demonstrated A400M’s “ability to refuel helicopters throughout the planned flight envelope (speed, altitude, mass), to refuel two helicopters simultaneously and to refuel at night under night vision binoculars."
Airbus aims to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refuelling certification later this year with the conclusion of all mandatory night operation trials.
A400M as tanker
The A400M is certified as standard to be quickly configured as a tanker. Carrying up to 50.8 tonnes of fuel in its wings and centre wing box, without compromising any cargo hold area, two additional cargo hold tanks can also be installed, providing an additional 5.7 tonnes of fuel each. The separate cargo-hold tanks allows for the use of different types of fuel, enabling the A400M to cater for the needs of different types of receiver aircraft.
As a tanker, the A400M has already demonstrated its ability to refuel fighter receivers such as Eurofighter, Rafale, Tornado or F/A-18 at their preferred speeds and altitudes, and is also able to refuel other large aircraft such as another A400M for buddy refuelling, C295 or C-130.