An upgraded A330 will be test-flown in about two years. (Paul Crouch/MoD/Crown copyright)
MADRID — The military aircraft arm of Airbus Defence and Security will start test-flying an enhanced version of the A330 MRTT tanker transport in the second half of 2016 and intends to adopt the new standard with the delivery of the first platform to Singapore, its latest customer.
The improvements will include upgrades to the military systems and the green A330 aircraft itself, according to Antonio Caramazana, the Airbus vice president of military derivative programs.
Updating reporters on the A330 program’s progress, Caramazana said the new package of military modifications will include upgrades to mission systems, refueling boom control laws, decluttering the boom visual systems and mission planning systems.
Installation of the IFF Mode 5 will make the aircraft compatible with the civil regulations involving ADS-B.
Other upgrades relate to changes being made to computers, avionics, and the structural and aerodynamics of the basic green airframe being built by Airbus for airliner and military customers.
The aerodynamic modifications relate primarily to changes to the slats and flaps on the wing. Caramazana said the wing changes will bring small but worthwhile improvements in fuel efficiency.
Conversion of an MRTT Enhanced prototype is planned to start in October of next year with the flight test program getting underway in July the following year.
Singapore will be the first customer for the update and all future deliveries after late 2017 will receive the new configuration.
Work on the boom control laws was prompted by a Royal Australian Air Force requirement to have current standards supplemented by additional capability to enhance the accuracy of large aircraft receiving fuel from the A330.
Work on the new control laws, known as Boom Upgrade 3, have been completed and the final certification and qualification process is underway.
The enhancements can be retrofitted, and Caramazana said the British had already contracted Airbus to look at the feasibility of incorporating some of the upgrades on its fleet of A330s.
The British tanker/transports don’t use an aerial refueling boom on the fuselage but instead deploy a Cobham-supplied fuselage refueling unit, along with two under-wing pods.
Royal Air Force inflight refueling aircraft are provided by the Airbus-led AirTanker consortium. Under a private finance initiative the consortium is providing 14 A330 tanker transports for the military.
So far, nine aircraft, called the Voyager in British service, have been released into service for RAF use.
Airbus has made a clean sweep of tanker orders internationally since losing to Boeing for the US Air Force requirement.
Aircraft are in service with Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The A330 secured a contract from Singapore earlier this year and Airbus is in final negotiations with Qatar, France and India.
The next contract opportunity is in South Korea where it is head- to-head with Boeing’s 767-based offering.
Caramazana said he expected to be under contract with France by the end of the year for nine A330s and three options.
The Airbus executive said France had dropped the idea of incorporating a large cargo door on the aircraft due to time and budget constraints. But France has included in the contract the requirement to use the aircraft for communications relay work.
Caramazana said the French use of the aircraft for duties other than tanking or transport was part of a growing trend. A couple of years ago the RAF looked at the possibility of using at least some of the A330 fleet for surveillance work.
Caramazana said Airbus was currently conducting feasibility studies on including special mission capabilities such as signals intelligence and electronic intelligence in its role. ■