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Royal Air Force Atlas Aircraft Carries Out First-Ever Mid-Air Refueling, Is a Success

A Royal Air Force (RAF) A400M Atlas transport aircraft has demonstrated its air-to-air refueling capability for the first time. The major breakthrough was achieved during recent trials conducted by RAF Brize Norton-based 206 Squadron.
RAF A400M Atlas was refueled for the first time mid-air 7 photos
Atlas A400M demonstrates air-to-air refueling capability for the first timeAtlas A400M demonstrates air-to-air refueling capability for the first timeAtlas A400M demonstrates air-to-air refueling capability for the first timeAtlas A400M demonstrates air-to-air refueling capability for the first timeAtlas A400MAtlas A400M
Air-to-air refueling is essential for extending the range of an aircraft. It saves air forces precious time by allowing jets to fly on long distances without stopping to refuel. This demonstration is part of the RAF's Agile Combat Employment program, which is a concept that operates from "austere" airbases to rapidly maneuver combat capability throughout a battlefield.

Agile Combat Employment focuses on extending the number of bases from which air forces can generate combat sorties. For that, a low presence on the ground supported by aircraft capable of air refueling is required.

The recent trials conducted by RAF Brize Norton-based 206 Squadron saw an A400M Atlas aircraft receive mid-air refueling from a Voyager tanker for the first time. Since the aircraft involved had to fly close to one another, the Atlas' fly-by-wire flight control system played a major role during the exercise.

Thanks to the system, the pilots could maintain formation with the Voyager and make contact to get fuel from it. The refueling capability used by the A400M Atlas is part of a series of tests supporting the Agile Combat Employment.

The aircraft was de-fueled into a Tactical Refuelling Area earlier this month during two different live demonstrations conducted at night and in daylight. The test validated the air forces' ability to transport fuel from large multi-engine aircraft such as the Atlas to a refueling facility. There, the fuel can be used to assist rapid jets dispatched from their main bases to remote locations.

RAF Atlas transport aircraft can already carry 40.7 tons (37 metric tons) over 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 miles/ 3,704 km). The recent air-to-air refueling enables the aircraft to extend its tactical capabilities.

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