PARIS – France has recently completed a series of test flights to move forward with certification of the A400M’s capability to refuel helicopters during flight, day and night.
Airbus says this certification campaign completes the majority of its development and certification objectives, adding that it “aims to achieve full helicopter air-to-air refueling certification later this year with the conclusion of all mandatory night operation trials.”
The test flight campaign took place between March 22 and April 2 but was only announced by DGA,the French military-procurement agency, on April 20.
France is currently the only country in Europe with a helicopter refueling capability, with the French Air & Space Force’s C130Js able to refuel EC725 Caracal helicopters, now called the H225M.
Organized by DGA’s test flight department at the BA106 Bordeaux air base, the campaign over the west coast of France involved an A400M supplied by manufacturer Airbus, and Caracal helicopters supplied by the French Air & Space Force airbase BA120 at Cazaux.
There were eight flights during the campaign, which ranged between 1,000 and 10,000 ft and flight speeds as low as 105 knots (121 mph). During one of these flights the A400 for the first time refueled two helicopters simultaneously. There were also two night flights. Overall there were more than 25 test flight hours, 81 “wet contacts” between fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and 6.5 tonnes (7.17 tons) of fuel were transferred.
The A400M can carry up to 50.8 tonnes (56 tons) of fuel in its wings and center wing box whilst two additional cargo holds for six-ton tanks can be installed. The A400M has already demonstrated its ability to refuel fighters such as the Eurofighter, Rafale, Tornado or F/A-18, as well as other large aircraft such as another A400M, the C295 or the C-130.