The airlift aircraft Airbus A400M has been tested for its helicopter air-to-air refueling ability with a series of dry contacts.
Under supervision of the French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA), an Airbus A400M has conducted a series of dry contacts to evaluate its air-to-air refueling ability. For its part, Airbus Helicopters has operated a H225M to perform the air trials. Over the course of the four flights, operated in day conditions over the south of France, the Airbus A400M performed 51 dry contacts to simulate a refueling — with no fuel — between 1,000 and 10,000 ft high (or between 305 et 3 050 meters) and at flight speeds lowered to 105 knots. These trials need to demonstrate the comprehensive abilities of the airlifter to conduct air-to-air refueling operations. Indeed, the aircraft has already proved 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 the C295, C-130 and even another A400M.
The aircraft is certified to be quickly configured as a tanker, not requiring a dedicated aircraft version. The A400M carries up to 50.8 tonnes (111,600 lb) 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 (11,400 lb) of fuel each. The fuel carried in the extra tanks can be of a different nature to the fuel in the main tanks. This enables the A400M to cater for the needs of different types of receiver aircraft.
Furthermore, the flight test campaign also included the first successful proximity trials between the A400M and an H160 helicopter requested by the DGA. The trials are part of the feasibility study for the Guépard (future military multirole helicopter for the French armed forces).
The Airbus A400M will perform wet contact operations before the end of 2019 ahead of final certification for helicopter air-to-air refueling expected for 2021.