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Airbus A400M conducts major helicopter refueling certification campaign

April 19, 2021

The Airbus A400M new generation airlifter has successfully conducted a major helicopter air-to-air refueling (AAR) certification campaign, completing the majority of its development and certification objectives. Airbus Defence and Space aims to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refueling certification later this year with the conclusion of all mandatory night operation trials. 

The flight tests, performed in coordination with the French Armament General Directorate (DGA), involved operations with two French Air Force H225M helicopters.

The campaign took place in day and night conditions over the west coast of France at between 1,000 ft and 10,000 ft and flight speeds as low as 105 knots. During those flights, a total of 81 wet contacts and transfers of 6.5 tonnes of fuel were achieved, which included simultaneous refueling of two helicopters for the first time. The tests confirmed the positive results of the dry and wet contact operations conducted in 2019 and 2020.

Helicopter air-to-air refueling is a unique military capability and key for Special Forces operations, involving aircraft with different flight profiles and sharing a very limited common flight envelope, requiring close formation flying patterns at low altitudes and nighttime conditions.

With this capability, the A400M becomes one of the few tanker aircraft in the world capable of such operations. The multi-purpose H225M is one of the few helicopters in the world capable of in-flight refueling, extending the standard 700 NM range by up to 10 hours flight time.

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 center 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 allow for the use of different fuel types, enabling the A400M to cater to 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 can refuel other large aircraft such as another A400M for buddy refueling, C295 or C-130.