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The Airbus A400M new-generation airlifter has successfully achieved its first helicopter air-to-air refuelling contacts with an H225M.

In four flights operated in day conditions over France, the A400M performed 51 dry contacts, marking a decisive milestone towards its full capability as a tanker. These tests were performed under the coordination of the French flight test centre.

The tests, involving no fuel and performed between 1-10,000ft at flight speeds as low as 105 knots, confirmed the positive results of previous proximity flights conducted earlier in 2019. The next step in the flight test programme will involve wet contact operations, scheduled to take place before the end of 2019 ahead of final certification in 2021.

The flight test campaign also included the first proximity trials between the A400M and an H160 helicopter, requested by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) in the context of the feasibility study for the GUÉPARD (future military multirole helicopter for the French armed forces).

The A400M is certified to be quickly configured as a tanker, not requiring a dedicated aircraft version. It carries up to 50.8t of fuel in its wings and centre wing box, without compromising any cargo hold area. Two additional cargo hold tanks can also be installed, each providing an additional 5.7t. The fuel carried in the extra tanks can be of a different nature to the fuel in the main tanks, which enables 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 the Eurofighter TYPHOON, RAFALE, TORNADO and F/A-18 at their preferred speeds and altitudes, and is also able to refuel other large aircraft such as another A400M for buddy refueling, C295 or C-130.

Helicopter air-to-air refuelling is a military tactical operation that involves low speeds and low altitudes. After this achievement and its final certification, the A400M will become one of the few tanker aircraft in the world capable of such operations.

An A400M conducting dry contact testing with an H225M operated by Airbus Helicopters. (Photo: Airbus)

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