A400M steps closer to helicopter refuelling certification

Airbus has successfully completed a major helicopter air-to-air refuelling certification campaign with the A400M heavy-lift tactical transport, marking a major milestone in the platform’s continued development.

The European aerospace manufacturing giant announced the completion of this campaign on April 19, adding that the A400M achieved “the majority of its development and certification objectives” during the tests. Airbus aims to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refuelling certification with the A400M later this year, following the conclusion of mandatory night operation trials.

A400M and H225Ms [Airbus]
A company-operated Airbus A400M heavy-lift tactical transport conducts a simultaneous air-to-air refuelling of two French Air and Space Force H225M Caracal medium-lift tactical transport helicopters during a flight test in March 2021. Airbus

This recent flight test campaign was conducted in coordination with the French Direction générale de l'armement (DGA, Directorate General of Armaments). A pair of Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal medium-lift tactical transport helicopters from the Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (AAE, French Air and Space Force) also supported the trials.

Airbus states that this latest “campaign took place in day and night conditions over the west coast of France at between 1,000ft and 10,000ft and [at] flight speeds as low as 150kts.” It added that 81 wet contacts, along with the successful transfer of 6.5 tonnes of fuel were achieved during the campaign, which also saw the A400M refuel the two helicopters simultaneously for the first time. “The tests confirmed the positive results of the dry and wet contact operations conducted in 2019 and 2020,” the firm said.

The Airbus A400M Atlas is certified to be quickly configured as a tanker aircraft, if required. The tactical transport is capable of carrying up to 50.8 tonnes of fuel in its wings and centre wing box, all without compromising the platform’s cargo hold area. If necessary, two additional cargo hold fuel tanks can be installed, providing a further 5.7 tonnes of fuel each. These tanks allow the A400M to carry different types of fuel, enabling it to cater to the different needs of receiver aircraft.

While this air-to-air refuelling campaign focuses on the replenishment of rotorcraft in-flight, the A400M has already demonstrated its ability to refuel fighter aircraft and other tactical transports during flight. The platform is also capable of conducting buddy refuelling with other A400Ms.