The Airbus A400M new generation airlifter has further proved its credentials as a tanker by successfully demonstrating simultaneous air-to-air refuelling of two F/A-18 fighters. In the course of four flights, the A400M performed 74 contacts and dispensed 27.2 tonnes of fuel to the Spanish Air Force aircraft. Refuelling was conducted at altitudes of 20,000ft – 33,000ft, and airspeeds of 180kt – 300kt – the preferred refuelling envelope for fighters.
With a basic fuel capacity of 50.8 tonnes which can be increased by the use of extra cargo hold tanks, the A400M is the most capable tactical tanker in the market. The standard A400M aircraft has full provisions for air-to-air refuelling (AAR) operations already installed and only requires the rapid installation of the optional air-to-air refuelling kit to become a tanker. Designed from the outset to be a dual-role transport and tanker aircraft, the A400M provides air forces with a cost-effective way to acquire an air-to-air refuelling capability in addition to a versatile logistic and tactical airlifter.
On a typical tanking mission where it would loiter for 2 hours at a range of 500 nm (930 km) from base, the A400M would have a potential “fuel give-away” of 34,000 kg (75,000 lb).