The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft assigned to the No. 33 Squadron has conducted a series of refuelling trials with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) F-22 Raptor fighter jet.
Eight test flights between the two aircraft were conducted from Edwards Air Force Base in California in August and September. The data is now being assessed to complete the standard procedures for refuelling activities involving both aircraft.
Serving as an air dominance fighter for the USAF, the F-22 combines stealth technology with advanced manoeuvrability and high-speed performance. It has an internal fuel capacity of 8.2 tonnes, and can supplement this load with air-to-air refuelling and by carrying external tanks underneath the wings.
The KC-30A, the Australian designation for the Airbus A330 MRTT, has a fuel capacity of more than 100 tonnes and can use its 15-metre-long Advanced Refuelling Boom System to connect with the F-22.
AIRCDRE William Kourelakos, Commander Air Mobility Group, said the refuelling trials were an important piece to future exercises and operations between the RAAF and USAF.
“We’ve seen the F-22 deploy to Australia in the past, whether it’s been for the Enhanced Air Cooperation program, or to the Australian International Air Show,” AIRCDRE Kourelakos said.
“Being able to refuel the F-22, whether it’s in Australia or elsewhere, increases our interoperability and enhances the reach and mobility of these aircraft. The KC-30A already has refuelling clearances for a number of unique USAF aircraft such as the B-1B Lancer.”
A flight test team from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) worked with its USAF counterparts to plan the trial and collect data during flights.
Jeremy Sequeira, the Flight Test Lead with ARDU at RAAF Base Amberley, said the trial posed few challenges aside from the highly sensitive nature of the F-22’s security.
“Overall there were few real issues as the KC-30A and F-22 are fairly mature platforms for aerial refuelling,” Mr Sequeira said. “Much of the lead up to the trials was spent planning to ensure we only hit the essential points in the trial to minimise the impact on the high-tempo KC-30A fleet.”
Refuelling test programs ensure the performance of the KC-30A and receiver aircraft are not adversely affected as they “couple” in flight. The trials test whether both aircraft can safely manoeuvre together while connected and with the receiver aircraft carrying different payloads.
“Data from other F-22 refuelling trials gave us a good expectation of how it would perform, and the aircraft met our expectations during the eight flights we conducted in this trial,” Mr Sequeira said.
“The KC-30A’s boom handled very well and the F-22 pilots consistently enjoyed flying with our tanker. We had a very good team behind us – the engineers at home who gave technical clearances for the test, the ARDU and USAF test teams, our contractor AROs, and the technicians who got us airborne. It was a great trial to be a part of, and demonstrated the RAAF’s ability to conduct safe and efficient test to deliver an operational capability.”