The A400M airlifter has successfully achieved its first helicopter air-to-air refuelling contacts with an H225M, manufacturer Airbus announced today. Over the course of four flights, operated in daylight over the south of France, the A400M performed 51 dry contacts, which Airbus described as “marking a decisive milestone towards its full capability as a tanker”. The tests were co-ordinated with the the DGA Essais en vol – the French flight test centre.
The tests, involving no fuel and performed between 1,000ft and 10,000ft at flight speeds as low as 105kts, confirmed the positive results of previous proximity flights conducted at the beginning of this year. The next step in the flight test programme will involve wet contact operations scheduled to take place before the end of this year ahead of final certification in 2021.
The flight test campaign also included the first proximity trials between the A400M and an H160 helicopter requested by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) in the frame of the feasibility study for the Guépard – the future military multirole helicopter for the French armed forces. Tests were performed successfully.
The A400M is certified to be quickly configured as a tanker, not requiring a dedicated aircraft version. The A400M carries up to 50.8 tonnes (111,600lb) 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 a further 5.7 tonnes (11,400lb) 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.
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.