The Airbus A400M has successfully conducted a major helicopter air-to-air refuelling certification campaign, completing the majority of its development and certification objectives say Airbus.

Airbus Defence and Space aims to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refuelling 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 refuelling 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 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 say that with this capability the A400M becomes one of the few tanker aircraft in the world capable of such operations.

However, there is no information as to whether or no the UK plans to utilise this capability on its own A400M aircraft.

A400M as tanker

Airbus say on their website:

“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 centre 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 allows for the use of different types of fuel, enabling 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.”

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Ron
Ron
6 months ago

It would be good if we in the UK could get this capability. Yes I know about the tanker contract however there is a diffrence of Strategic and Tactical refueling.

john melling
john melling
6 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Definitely, a good idea for the RAF to expand tanker capability

I’m sure the UKDJ had a thread about the future of UK refuelling a year or two back? and the issues of a signed contact which ties our hands.

But we should stop the BS and get what we need if its what the top brass say is needed then we should get it.. simple as.

James M
James M
5 months ago
Reply to  john melling

Honestly, fitting a boom to Voyager seems like a better investment to me. Realistically, how often does a helicopter get AAR? Surely it’s more important to extend time on station of the extremely limited number of P-8 and E-7 we’re getting, and as a side benefit extend the range of all our fixed-wing airlift assets.

Lordtemplar
Lordtemplar
6 months ago
Reply to  Ron

AFAIK, the A400M was designed from the start to have this capability, eventhough it is the last one to become operational. Presumably, the fuel lines etc… are pre-fitted. All that is needed would be the underwing refuel pods and fuel tanks in the cargo bay, which are easy and quick to install. As John said there is an agreement with the Voyager contract. I have not read the contract so excuse my ignorance. But AFAIK the Voyager cannot refuel rotary so I cannot see any issue using the A400M for refuelling helicopters, even if contract excludes the refuelling of fixed… Read more »

Ron
Ron
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

I agree, the issue does seem to be the Voyager contract. However as you have stated Voyager cannot refuel rotary, so that should be possible. What should also be possible is the diffrence in Strategic ability and tactical ability. It is logical that the Voyager is a strategiccapability so if or when a squadron of aircraft goes down to the Falklands or trans Atlantic or Romania etc then that is a Strategic lift. When a squadron of aircraft is operational from the Falklands etc then that is a tactical lift. Voyager needs a nice long hardcore runway, Atlas can operate… Read more »

Joe16
Joe16
6 months ago
Reply to  Ron

I would not be at all surprised if the government is hiding behind the airtanker contract as a way of justifying not spending out on a sensible capability. They did exactly the same with the whole EU regulations thing when it came to contracting tankers for the RFA; the EU regs say that countries are allowed to ringfence any capability that is deemed to be critical to national security (or something along those lines). It says nothing about warships, that was an HM government addition.

LongTime
LongTime
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

Ron and LT just had a read over a FOI posted on the Facebook link for this article and the airtanker contract covers fixed wing ONLY and let’s be honest a fast jet doesn’t want to be going A400M speeds to refuel, it’s not a stall risk but definitely a stability pain for typhoons

Last edited 6 months ago by LongTime
Sonik
Sonik
6 months ago
Reply to  LongTime

I think it may be even broader than that – IIRC Airtanker contract is only exclusive for equivalent refuel capability.

So A400m could for example even be used to refuel fixed wing IF it was deployed from a rough airstrip, because Voyager does not have that capability. RAF routinely use USAF and other NATO refueling, presume contract allows for this also.

LongTime
LongTime
6 months ago
Reply to  Sonik

Sonik, only 3 Questions on the FOI but by the Dec 2018 we had paid £0 in clause violations, reason given was joint exercise and allied interoperability. Would add this is now 4 FOIs that I’ve read where the MOD have been asked about penalty payments and it comes across that it’s only a violation if we are blatantly avoiding using Voyager, for example if a Voyager and KC-135 were flying next to each other and all our jets go to the KC-135 and no US jets go to the Voyager it would be a penalty but if the jets… Read more »

Sonik
Sonik
6 months ago
Reply to  LongTime

Yep, that’s my understanding also. From what I can gather the AirTanker contract is very complex. Ultimately it’s not completely unreasonable IMO because AirTanker (or indeed any other bidder) needed to be assured of a reasonable return on their investment. It’s a moot point if buying the Voyagers would have been cheaper (Vs leasing) because MOD didn’t have the cash to fund it. It’s worth reading the Audit Commission report on the PFI it has lots of info. On the plus side, apparently India are now very keen to work with AirTanker and various others (including USAF!) are also looking… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

The delay was due to the severe turbulence generated behind the aircraft, by the propellers. On an A400Ms wing, the two propellers spin towards each other. This generates a huge vortex, which is good for generating high lift when the flaps are deployed. However, it’s not so good for following aircraft. Cobham who make the drogue system have had to nearly triple the length of the hose trailing behind the aircraft. Any closer and the basket would weave around too much for the pilot to line up the probe.

Sceptical Richard
Sceptical Richard
6 months ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Sorry to have to correct you DaveyB, as you are normally bang on the money. The main reason Cobham has had to extend the hose length is because helicopter test pilots thought the emergency break-off manoeuvre with the standard shorter hose took the rotors dangerously close to the high T-tale of the A400M. Drogue stability if anything could be a greater problem with the longer hose than the shorter one. The handed propeller configuration creates a symmetric air flow behind the aircraft which is designed to reduce the size the vertical tail plane would have to be in the case… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
6 months ago

Not sure where you got your info from? But mine definitely said the propwash was the main problem for air to air refueling. The break off manoeuvre by the pilot would be a consideration, but what I heard is the propwash caused the drogue basket to oscillate and corkscrew. This not only made it really hard to line up, but also caused the following helicopter especially, to jink around in the turbulence. Airbus, tried longer and longer hoses until the oscillations were damped down enough for the pilot to make repeated successful connections. There are two trains of thought with… Read more »

Sceptical Richard
Sceptical Richard
6 months ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Hi DaveyB. Well I worked on the project in Toulouse, Madrid and later at Brize Norton for a total of 18 years. I was responsible for contracting with OCCAR and then headed up the maintenance organisation for the programme. Finally I was responsible for the introduction of the aircraft into RAF service. I was also on the board of AirTanker. Many operators view issues from a particular perspective and concentrate on different aspects of the same problem. All I can say is that I worked alongside the head of programme and chief engineer at Airbus and got my information first… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
6 months ago

Cheers SR, my info also came from a couple of people who worked on the Project. One was part of the paratroop trials, the other was part of the gearbox improvement project. So can only take their word for the issues they saw and worked with.

Sceptical Richard
Sceptical Richard
6 months ago
Reply to  DaveyB

As I said, different people view the same problem from different stand points, usually dependent on the particular area of concern they happen to be dealing with, and concentrate on different root causes. Great to see the aircraft delivering its promised full functionality though. Cheers.

Andrew D
Andrew D
6 months ago
Reply to  Ron

I agree Ron think it’s worthwhile the UK looking into this capability.

George Royce
George Royce
6 months ago

Since we’re retiring our 14 remaining C-130s in 2 years time, let’s order a few more of these wonderful beasts.

It would be a good idea imo, to create a new heavylift long-range transport with Airbus, to replace our C-17s in 10-15 years time.

Last edited 6 months ago by George Royce
Lordtemplar
Lordtemplar
6 months ago
Reply to  George Royce

I seriously doubt Airbus will develop an alternative to the C17. Airbus got burned on the A330 tanker deal with the US, who are the only real client who will order enough heavy airlift to make a viable business case. I don’t see enough countries in Europe who would order these in sufficient quantities. Will have to wait to see if Boeing or LM are contracted by US Pentagon to replace the C17 and C5 Galaxy. So far i haven’t heard of such plan. C17 still have some usefull service life, not so sure about the Galaxy though More realistically,… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Lordtemplar
Watcherzero
Watcherzero
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

For the last decade European NATO command has leased AN124 for the strategic airlift role, initially from Russia and latterly from Ukraine. This is supplemented by the A400 and C17.

dan
dan
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

The US will need a replacement for the mighty C-5 before it needs to think about replacing the C-17s.

MikeB1947
MikeB1947
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

So, you think that Europe (and Airbus in particular) would be wasting their time trying to sell and military aircraft to the US

Sonik
Sonik
6 months ago
Reply to  Lordtemplar

I doubt we will see a replacement for C17 or C5 anytime soon. I have read that USAF are very concerned about C17 fleet burning through airframe/cycle life much quicker than planned, due to no replacement model being forseen. Even USA will struggle with this IMO – they don’t have budget for sufficient units to make a business case for a new model, LM are not in that business anymore and Boeing has lost the plot. Outside the US there are only a handful of countries with a small number of C17 so isn’t really a world market either. This… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Sonik
Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
6 months ago
Reply to  Sonik

It is rather odd burning through fatigue life for non MilSpec operations where a 747 cargo variant would do the job. ie landing kit in a runway in an uncontested airport in uncontested airspace.

Does make you wonder a bit about why USAF don’t have some cargo 747’s to save the expensive stuff for when it is really needed.

Sonik
Sonik
6 months ago

I think they already use commercial contractors quite extensively for non military needs, and indeed even into semi-contested areas on occasion – I recall a DHL plane got shot down in Baghdad, the crew were saved by some quite exceptional airmanship!

The C17 issue was more for runs like Afghan where smaller aircraft would suffice e.g. for mail delivery, medivac, but nothing else was available. Presumably with the drawdown it’s not an issue now – my point really was about the unavailability of C17 replacements being forseen by USAF, hence the desire to preserve existing fleet.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 months ago

Off-topic I know, but I’ve just read this.

Johnny Mercer: Tory MP resigns as defence minister.
“In his letter, Mr Mercer accused the government of failing to introduce similar legislation to cover Northern Ireland veterans, despite previous pledges.
“No discernible efforts have been made to do so, and I can see no prospect of this changing,” he added.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-56823348

Joe16
Joe16
6 months ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

I saw that this morning, and I have mixed feelings about it. Mercer seems to be a principled and passionate guy, so I hope this isn’t the end of his ministerial career. On the subject of the legislation, it has been criticised by all sides in the way it goes about providing protection to our troops- even by veterans’ associations. So I’m not convinced that it was a fight it was worth falling on his sword over… I’m all for providing our troops protection from spurious legal claims, but I’m not going to pretend that a British uniform makes our… Read more »

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe16

A great pity to lose someone who stands fully behind our armed forces.
Let’s hope he is replaced with someone as passionate and dedicated as he was.

Airborne
Airborne
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe16

It’s not so much the fact that people who are thought to have committed any sort of “war crime” while in uniform are investigated, it’s the free for all, uncontrolled claim hunting by certain legal companies and organisations, who actively promote dishonesty and false claims and lies, with people who see either financial reward, confirmation of an agenda or simply resettlement to the UK. Seen, and heard it, it with my own eyes while cutting about Iraq quite a few years ago. In it’s current form it is simply a witchunt, driven by greedy legal organisations. If you misbehave then… Read more »

Joe16
Joe16
6 months ago
Reply to  Airborne

I’m really sorry if I implied that no protection should be afforded- it really should be. Military personnel put their lives on the line to protect others, and to have them then subjected to money-making claims is disgusting.
All I was saying was that this particular form of the legislation had received quite a bit of criticism, from all sides, and that it may not be the best way to provide the protections that our services deserve. Maybe it’s a case of the imperfect now better than the perfect later?

Airborne
Airborne
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe16

Don’t be sorry mate I just thought I’d give my 2penneth worth on the issue. It’s an ongoing issue with the government and while they say the right thing they mostly don’t do the right thing. Old Mercer was a decent bloke and that’s why he has gone. Methinks he will become an independant MP now for Plymouth.

Andy P
Andy P
6 months ago

I’d assume the UK will get round to it at some point then, guess we’ve got a wee bit of time before the Herky-pigs go.

Nic
Nic
6 months ago

This could help to solve the problem of replacing the c130 fleet , order some of these A400 and to solve the Puma replacement order some H225M helicopters.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 months ago
Reply to  Nic

It will be interesting to see what replaces the Puma.

“Leonardo is to unveil a demonstrator helicopter at its Yeovil plant in Somerset in May to spearhead its bid to win the UK’s recently announced New Medium Helicopter (NMH) competition with its AW149 helicopter.”

https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/leonardo-to-unveil-uk-new-medium-helicopter-demonstrator

Nic
Nic
6 months ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

It was also mentioned that the Blackhawk was in the frame as it was a favourite choice of the special forces .But you also have Defiant on the list as well.

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 months ago
Reply to  Nic

Hopefully, something positive will come of it 🙏

James
James
6 months ago

Hi, as there is no replacement for the C17s in the near future, would it not be possible to design a new wing for the atlas A400 with jet engines, but maybe as a standard wing design for fuel efficiency ( like civil jets ) instead of stol design.

Daveyb
Daveyb
6 months ago

The sh*t gets real! The Daily Mail have reported that Troops are massing on the Ukrainian border ready and waiting to invade.

It’s only been two weeks since Ukraine first reported troops massing on their border. So if the Mail has now reported it, it must be real….

Nigel Collins
Nigel Collins
6 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

I read that only the other day from one of UKDJ’s intelligence officers on here.
Confirmed by the Daily Star by all accounts….

https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/the-osint-bunker-episode-5-released/

Last edited 6 months ago by Nigel Collins
Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
6 months ago
Reply to  Nigel Collins

😁

Airborne
Airborne
6 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

The mail’s report will probably say “big gun tank vehicles, who’s gun can fire a shell the size of a fridge, the distance of 107 football fields, are massing on the border of another country nearby, and also have an army full of army men, who have tanks with guns and rockets capable of firing rockets the size of a double decker bus, and can hit other targets the size of a football”…….

DaveyB
DaveyB
6 months ago
Reply to  Airborne

Most likely.

But seriously, Russia have said the “exercise” will finish in two weeks. Which is plenty of time for those Russian vessels that passed through the Channel to have reached the Sevastopol and be loaded up with marines. So that they can begin their exercises in the Sea of Azov or just NW of Crimea.

Interesting times me thinks….

Daniel
Daniel
6 months ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Is that where those ships were headed? I assumed as much when I first read the article the other day, but I thought the article seemed to suggest that those ships were transiting the channel in the other direction? i.e. away from the Med and Black Sea and towards the North Atlantic?

Sooty
Sooty
6 months ago

A400Ms or even C130s plus IFR equipped CSAR AW101s would add significantly to the UKs SF capabilities. Can’t see it happening though.

Ron5
Ron5
6 months ago
Reply to  Sooty

Royal Marine Merlins already have air refueling probes. Just need a tanker.

Joe16
Joe16
6 months ago

Just out of interest, how many of our rotorcraft are actually plumbed for air to air refueling? I don’t think there are any/many…

Nic
Nic
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe16

I don’t think any of the wildcats,Pumas ,merlins or the chinook have been kitted out for air to air refuelling as yet

Jonny Agar
Jonny Agar
6 months ago
Reply to  Joe16

Merlin fleet is plumbed for IFR but no probes fitted and the new order chinooks are standard IFR fit. So we have never seen the point of IFR of rotors. Waste of money

MikeB1947
MikeB1947
6 months ago

Back in the late 60s, I recall seeing either a leaflet or brochure – issued by Short Brothers – in which they proposed a tanker version of the Belfast. Of course, the government and RAF showed little interest in the idea and it was taken any further.

Nic
Nic
6 months ago
Reply to  MikeB1947

That sounds about right