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As a result of a flight campaign in collaboration with the Republic of Singapore Air Force at the end of a development that has been ongoing since 2018, the Spanish National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA) has certified the A330 MRTT tanker aircraft as the world’s first tanker aircraft for daylight Automatic Air-to-Air Refuelling (A3R).

Airbus reported that the certified capability is part of the new SMART MRTT developed by Airbus. According to the company, the A3R system requires no additional equipment on the aircraft to be refuelled and is intended to reduce the workload of the air-to-air refuelling operator (ARO), improve safety and optimise the air-to-air refuelling (AAR) transfer rate in operational conditions to enable air superiority.

The road ahead for further development of the A330 MRTT is not over yet, Airbus emphasises. Through its subsidiary Airbus UpNext, the company has launched the Auto’Mate demonstration project to develop, adapt, mature, integrate and evaluate technologies for Autonomous Assets Air-to-Air Refuelling (A4R) and Autonomous Formation Flight (AF2). Auto’Mate will focus on automating the tasks of the receiving aircraft, which will require a number of new technologies that form the pillars of the UpNext Auto’Mate demonstrator.

These technological building blocks are planned to be flight tested during 2023, with a final end-to-end demonstration in mid-2024, using an A310 as the tanker aircraft and DT-25 target drones as the receiving aircraft in both cases.