Yesterday afternoon at Toulouse Blagnac, one of our members photographed an Airbus Military A400M ‘EC-404’ (MSN: 004). ‘EC-404’ is a test-bed aircraft and today, Airbus Defence & Space has completed the latest phase of an in-flight refuelling test campaign involving its A400M and a pair of combat search and rescue Caracal helicopters. In fact, air-to-air refueling pods are visible on the wingtips of the A400M.
The certification tests saw the airlifter complete the majority of its development and certification objectives. 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. Airbus hope to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refuelling certification later this year with the conclusion of all mandatory night operation trials.
This same airframe carried out tests in 2019 and successfully completed the certification flight tests for the A400M Cargo Hold Tanks (CHT) refueling unit, taking a new step towards the full certification of the aircraft for air-to-air refueling operations as a tanker. During that same year, the A400 achieved its first helicopter air-to-air refueling contacts with an H225M.
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.