Airbus has announced that it is closing in on completion of the campaign to certify its A400M military turboprop for helicopter air-to-air refueling operations following the conclusion of its latest flight trials. According to the company, 81 wet contacts were achieved and 6.5 tonnes (about 7.2 tons) of fuel were transferred during the flights, which took place over the west coast of France. The trials were conducted at altitudes between 1,000 and 10,000 feet at speeds as low as 105 knots.
“Helicopter air-to-air refuelling 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 night time conditions,” Airbus said. “With this capability the A400M becomes one of the few tanker aircraft in the world capable of such operations.”
The flight tests were performed in coordination with the French Armament General Directorate (DGA) and used two French Air Force H225M helicopters. Airbus says it is aiming for full helicopter air-to-air refueling certification for the aircraft later this year after concluding mandatory night operation trials. In its tanker configuration, the A400M, which is also capable of refueling fighters such as the Rafale, Tornado and F/A-18, can carry up to 50.8 tonnes (56 tons) of fuel.