Airbus A310 MRTT
Introducing the German MRTT-fleet
Whenever aviation fuel was required within the scope of large-scale air operation during the early years of this century, the German Luftwaffe had to fall back on the tanker capacities of other NATO armed forces, such as the United States, France, United Kingdom or the Netherlands. As a result, the freedom of operation of own forces was considerably limited, and the Luftwaffe ran the risk to become more and more dependent upon the availability of free tanker capacities. To overcome this situation, the Luftwaffe decided to expand the capabilities of its four Airbus A310 MRT strategic air transport carriers. The conversion the Airbus A310 MRT aircraft started in 2002 and was completed in 2010. A consortium made up by Airbus Deutschland GmbH and Lufthansa Technik AG expanded the already existing capabilities of the Airbus A310 MRT to MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport).
All four aircraft operate today under the operational command (OPCON) of the European Air Transport Command (EATC), being stationed at the Special Air Mission Wing MoD, military part of the Cologne airport.
Several conversion kits
The different conversion kits allow the strategic transport of personnel and material in the transport role.
In the Aeromedical evacuation version, the MRTT is employed as a flying hospital. Thus, the transport of wounded, injured and diseased persons as well as the appropriate onboard medical/intensive care can be ensured anytime and anywhere.
In the tanker configuration, the MRTT is fitted with up to five auxiliary fuel tanks in the lower cargo bay, each with a capacity of approximately 32 tons (some 39,500 liters) of fuel. Together with the wing fuel tanks, the MRTT has an overall fuel capacity of 74 tons.
The fuel flow rate during refueling is 1.600 liters per minute; the aircraft is thus able to provide sufficient fuel in a short period of time. In regular operations the aircraft delivers a total of 45 tons fuel.
Flying gas station
The “hose and drogue”-system was selected as refueling system with regard to the German Tornado and Eurofighter combat aircraft, although the system offers compatibility also to other nation’s aircraft like Swedish Gripen, French Rafale or Mirage, not to mention Eurofighters or Tornados IDS/REECE/ADV/ECR of e.g. UK, Italy, Spain and several EU nations more, that take supply on “hose and drogue”.
The system comprises a refueling hose container under the wing that deploys a refueling hose with a maximum length of 23 m during flight. The hose is fitted with a drogue; the aircraft to be refueled couples its refueling receptacle with the connector inside the drogue. Markings at the wings, the fuselage and the tail section as well as luminous signals ensure that the pilots of the aircraft to be refueled are able to assume a safe position behind the tanker aircraft even in low visibility without endangering themselves or other aircraft.
The combat aircraft crews "check in" by themselves: they slowly and carefully approach the tanker aircraft until the fuel receptacle of the combat aircraft connects to the drogue.
New standard inside
The MRTT implemented a new concept with its crew of three, consisting of two pilots and one Aviation Operation Officer (AOO). The entire refueling process is conducted and controlled by the AOO at the fuel operation station (FOS) which is permanently installed in all A310 MRTT behind the cockpit. In contrast to the U.S. Boeing KC-135, where a boom operator steers the so-called refueling boom installed at the rear of the fuselage to a fuel receptacle on the approaching combat aircraft, the MRTT AOO visually controls the refueling process by means of a camera system fitted to the aircraft's fuselage and tail section. The system operates similar to the rear view camera system of usual cars – although much smarter.
Words: Norbert Thomas
Pictures: German Air Force