Airbus Conducts New A400M Helicopter Air-To-Air Refueling Test Campaign

The Airbus A400M performs a simultaneous refueling of two H225M Caracal helicopters. (Photo: Anthony Pecchi/Airbus)

The tests with the A400M involved the day and night refueling of two French Air Force H225M Caracals.

Airbus recently announced the successful completion of a new Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling (HAAR) test campaign with the A400M four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. The aircraft is now getting closer to the full helicopter air-to-air refueling certification later this year, having completed the majority of its development and certification objectives.

The flight tests were performed with the participation of two French Air Force H225M Caracal helicopters (formerly known also as EC725 Caracal/Super Cougar) as receivers. The refueling tests took place in day and night conditions over the west coast of France at between 1,000 ft and 10,000 ft and speeds as low as 105 knots, according to Airbus’ press release.

The first testing of this kind was performed by Airbus in 2019, when the first dry contacts (without fuel transfer) between the A400M and the H225M were achieved, followed by another round of testing in 2020. During this year’s flights, a total of 81 wet contacts were achieved with 6.5 tonnes of fuel transferred to the helicopters.

During the tests, the A400M performed also the simultaneous refueling of two helicopters for the first time from its underwing refueling pods, similar to the ones used by the MC-130Js of the U.S. Air Force and the KC-130Js of the Italian Air Force from which the H225M already refueled in the recent years. In addition to the two pods, the A400M can use also a fuselage refueling unit, but Airbus did not specify if the latter was used during the tests.

HAAR is a unique military capability used by helicopters supporting Special Forces operations, useful to extend their endurance and range. This operation is very complex as it involves aircraft with different flight profiles and sharing a very limited common flight envelope, requiring close formation flying patterns at low altitudes with the tanker flying near its minimum speed and the helicopters flying near their maximum speed. Wake turbulence and nighttime conditions (which are common during Special Forces operations) can further complicate the HAAR operations.

The Airbus A400M flies in formation with two H225M Caracal helicopters during the HAAR test campaign. (Photo: Anthony Pecchi/Airbus)

Although it was born as a tactical airlifter, the A400M is certified to be quickly configured as a tanker which can carry up to 50.8 tonnes of fuel in its wings and centre wing box. More fuel can be carried by installing two additional cargo hold tanks that can be filled with 5.7 tonnes of fuel each.

In the tanker role, the A400M has already demonstrated its ability to refuel fighter receivers such as Dassault Rafale from the French Air Force, Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado from the German Air Force and F/A-18 from the Spanish Air Force, as well as another A400M for buddy refueling, and cargos like the C295 or C-130.

Germany is the first nation that started to use operationally the A400M as a tanker, even deploying one to Jordan in support of Operation “Counter Daesh” (as the German intervention against ISIL in Syria and Iraq is codenamed), where they provided the air-to-air refueling capability for the four German Tornado IDS deployed there in the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) role.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.