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A400M Air-to-Air Refuelling

The A400M can readily and swiftly be adapted to become a Tanker, if required in a military operation. On a typical tanking mission where it would loiter for 2 hours at a range of 500 nm (930 km) from base, the A400M would have a potential fuel give-away of 34,000 kg (75,000 lb).

Air-to-air refuelling of large aircraft such as transports, AEW&C, and tankers themselves is frequently an advantage in airborne operations. Transports typically require refuelling to enable them to deploy further with troops or cargo on intercontinental missions. AEW&C types benefit by being able to remain on station providing continuous coverage of an area of interest for many hours. And tankers often refuel each other, partly for longer deployments, but also to avoid returning to base with large amounts of unused fuel. But large aircraft interact aerodynamically when they fly close to each other and the safety of the operation has to be proven for each different type.

With a basic fuel capacity of 50.8 tonnes which can be increased by the use of extra cargo hold tanks, the A400M is the most capable tactical tanker in the market. The standard A400M aircraft has full provisions for Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) operations already installed as standard and only requires the rapid installation of the optional air-to-air refuelling kit to become a tanker. Designed from the outset to be a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft, the A400M provides air forces with a cost-effective way to acquire an air-to-air refuelling capability in addition to a versatile logistic and tactical airlifter.

Air-to-Air Refuelling can be done either through two wing mounted hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods or through a centre-line fuselage refuelling unit (FRU). Its built-in air-to-air refuelling capability allows it to be rapidly re-configured to become a tanker. With hard points, fuel lines and electrical connections already built into the wings, it takes under two hours to convert the A400M from an airlifter into a two-point tanker aircraft.

The two hose and drogue under-wing refuelling pods can provide a fuel flow of up to 400 US gal / 1,500 litres per minute to receiver aircraft. Refuelling can also be done through a centre-line Hose and Drum Unit (HDU) which provides a higher fuel flow of some 600 US gal / 2,250 litres per minute. Three video cameras can also be installed, to monitor the refuelling from the wing pods and the centre-line unit.

The A400M is the only Tanker which can refuel the entire range of probe-equipped military aircraft at their preferred speeds and altitudes. This is because it can fly both at the low speeds and low altitudes typically used to refuel helicopters (roughly 110 knots and 5000 feet)(, as well as at higher speeds and altitudes of about 290 knots kt and altitudes around 25,000 ft which are typically used for refuelling of fast jets, such as fighters or large aircraft (such as the C295, C-130 Hercules, Eurofighter, F/A-18 Hornet or Rafale,) or even another A400M for buddy refuelling. To do so, the A400M receiver is equipped with a refuelling probe mounted above the cockpit. This increases the range and enduration of the A400M. The probe can easily be removed when it is not needed.

The Airbus A400M new generation airlifter performed successfully air-to-air refuelling tests with a F/A-18 Hornet fighter in August 2014. The tanker test campaign was developed in five flights in which the A400M performed 33 dry contacts and dispensed 18.6 tonnes of fuel to an F/A-18 Hornet in 35 wet contacts.

The Airbus A400M new generation airlifter further proved its credentials as a tanker by successfully demonstrating simultaneous air-to-air refuelling of two F/A-18 fighters in February 2015. In the course of four flights, the A400M performed 74 contacts and dispensed 27.2 tonnes of fuel to the Spanish Air Force aircraft. Refuelling was conducted at altitudes of 20,000ft - 33,000ft, and airspeeds of 180kt - 300kt the preferred refuelling envelope for fighters.




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