EU Defense Body Launches Automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling Project

The European Defence Agency (EDA) has kicked off a project to develop automatic air-to-air refuelling (AAR) with the hose and drogue system.

The project aims to develop new automatic features for the AAR, enabling greater efficiency.

Spain will lead the two-year, 4-million-euro ($4.46 million) research project in collaboration with Germany.

Project Goals 

The project’s goals include better identification and tracking of the hose and drogue system and the receiver aircraft. A concept to increase the drogue’s stabilization will also be developed.

Furthermore, the project will create a simulated environment to “evaluate the optimum trajectory of the receiver aircraft towards the drogue, analyzing the interaction between them.”

It will also address technological gaps such as sensors, computing capability, and suitability in all weather conditions.

Flight Tests in 2024

The project’s first phase will focus on technology trade for automation. The technologies will be evaluated, prototyped, and tested. 

Flight tests will be carried out with an Airbus A330 MRTT tanker and Tornado aircraft in 2024.

Finally, the project will align the “technological development with operational needs, and explore new ways of performing the AAR operation to increase its efficiency and within new scenarios to be considered in the future.”

Technology for the Future

A fully automatic AAR has already been achieved recently with the boom system, helping reduce operator workload.

Similar technological leaps in the much simpler hose and drogue system will “prepare air-to-air refuelling tankers, such as A330 MRTT, A400M or C295, to cope with more demanding operations and be ready for the next generation of unmanned platforms,” the EDA wrote.

The project will be executed through a consortium of firms comprising Airbus Defence and Space (Spain and Germany), GMV (Spain), the German Aerospace Center, and AES Technology (Germany). 

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