Fifty-five years after the arrival of the first Boeing C135 tanker aircraft, the A330 Phoenix on Friday, October 12, took off from Istres air base on its first flight after having officially joined the Air Force.
Piloted by a crew of the MRTT team of the Military Aviation Expertise Center (CEAM), the new tanker aircraft made a first flight of flight refueling trial with the aircraft of the 2/2 «Côte-d’Or» Calibration Squadron.
This first flight marks the beginning of the experimental and test campaign that will allow the aircraft to be reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) within a year. Integrated into the 31st EARTS (strategic air refueling squadron), the trial team will perform many test flights to qualify the aircraft for all the missions it will carry out. The first phase will be dedicated to the air refueling missions of the various Air Force aircraft and those of our allies, in multiple configurations, by day or night and in all weathers.
Once the refueling capabilities are validated, the aircraft’s trials will be expanded to include strategic cargo and personnel transport and medical evacuation. The Phénix, so named by the Air Force as a symbol of the aircraft capable of «reborning» any aircraft it refuels in flight, will ultimately replace the Air Force’s entire fleet of strategic aircraft (C135, A310 and A340) which are now used for long-range missions.
Operated by the strategic air forces, the fleet of 12 aircraft (15 after 2025) will be stationed at the 125 Istres air base, whose role as our «logistics hub» will be increased tenfold.
Given that the A330 Phoenix is one and a half times larger than the C135, the entire infrastructure of Air Base 125 has had to be reviewed. A first maintenance hangar, a parking lot and new air traffic routes were thus created at the air base for the reception and implementation of the aircraft.
This site, the largest currently in terms of investments for the Ministry of the Armed Forces, will continue to accommodate 12 aircraft by 2023. In addition to two other maintenance hangars, Istres will have a new terminal for personnel and logistics transport missions which are currently carried out by the 1/60 «Estérel» transport squadron from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
The first Airbus A330 Phénix Multi-Role Tanker Transport Aircraft (MRTT) arrived Thursday afternoon (on September 27) at Istres air base, in south-eastern France. Its reception operations, managed by the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA), will be completed, allowing its hand-over to the Air Force.
Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly will travel to Istres on October 19 for the official ceremony marking the arrival of the first Phoenix MRTT in the Air Force, together with General Lavigne, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force.
By its versatility, the A330 Phénix will replace two types of aircraft in the air force’s fleet: the C135 and KC135 tanker aircraft, some of which will be nearly 60 years old by the time they are retired, and the A310 and A340 strategic transport aircraft, used for both personnel and freight. Twelve Phénix aircraft will be delivered to the Air Force by 2023, out of a planned total of 15, as specified by the 2019-2025 Military Programming Law, and the minister’s wish to accelerate their delivery.
Its missions will include supporting the air component of the nuclear deterrent, the contribution to France’s permanent security posture, the projection of forces and power as well as the medical evacuation in case of emergencies or natural catastrophes.
The MRTT Phoenix is based on an Airbus A330 commercial aircraft, modified to meet specific military requirements, principally mid-air refueling. This type of aircraft is already in service with several of our allies.
This first MRTT Phénix aircraft is due to enter operational service with the strategic air force command in 2019, after a technical and operational evaluation campaign carried out by the Air Force and intended to develop the procedures for use its operational employment, doctrine and procedures.
In addition, on September 27th, the second MRTT Phénix aircraft, scheduled to be delivered in 2019, made its first test flight out of the Airbus plant in Getafe (Spain), following its conversion into a military plane.
Airbus Perlan Mission II, the world’s first initiative to pilot an engineless aircraft to the edge of space, made history again yesterday in El Calafate, Argentina, by soaring in the stratosphere to a pressure altitude of over 62,000 feet/18,898 m (60,669 feet/18,492 m GPS altitude). This set a new gliding altitude world record, pending official validation.
The pressurized Perlan 2 glider, which is designed to soar up to 90,000 feet/27,432 m, passed the Armstrong Line, the point in the atmosphere above which an unprotected human’s blood will boil if an aircraft loses pressurization.
This marks a second glider altitude world record for Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock, the same two Perlan Project pilots who soared the Perlan 2 to 52,221 feet/15,917 m GPS altitude on September 3, 2017, in the same remote region of Argentine Patagonia. The 2017 record broke a previous record that was set in 2006, in the unpressurized Perlan 1, by Perlan Project founder Einar Enevoldson and Steve Fossett.
«This is a tremendous moment for all the volunteers and sponsors of Airbus Perlan Mission II who have been so dedicated to making our nonprofit aerospace initiative a reality», said Ed Warnock, CEA of The Perlan Project. «Our victory today, and whatever other milestones we achieve this year, are a testament to a pioneering spirit of exploration that runs through everyone on the project and through the organizations that support us».
«Innovation is a buzzword in aerospace today, but Perlan truly embodies the kind of bold thinking and creativity that are core Airbus values», said Tom Enders, Airbus CEO. «Perlan Project is achieving the seemingly impossible, and our support for this endeavor sends a message to our employees, suppliers and competitors that we will not settle for being anything less than extraordinary».
Another first-of-its kind achievement this year for the Perlan Project was the use of a special high-altitude tow plane rather than a conventional glider tow plane. During yesterday’s flight, Perlan 2 was towed to the base of the stratosphere by a Grob Egrett G520 turboprop, a high-altitude reconnaissance plane that was modified for the task earlier this summer. Operated by AV Experts, LLC, and flown by chief pilot Arne Vasenden, the Egrett released Perlan 2 at around 42,000 feet/12,802 m, the approximate service ceiling of an Airbus A380.
To soar into the highest areas of Earth’s atmosphere, Perlan 2 pilots catch a ride on stratospheric mountain waves, a weather phenomenon created when rising air currents behind mountain ranges are significantly strengthened by the polar vortex. The phenomenon occurs only for a brief period each year in just a few places on earth. Nestled within the Andes Mountains in Argentina, the area around El Calafate is one of those rare locations where these rising air currents can reach to 100,000 feet/30,480 m or more.
Built in Oregon and home-based in Minden, Nevada, the Perlan 2 glider incorporates a number of unique innovations to enable its ambitious mission:
A carbon-fiber capsule with a unique high-efficiency, passive cabin pressurization system that eliminates the need for heavy, power-hungry compressors.
A unique closed-loop rebreather system, in which the only oxygen used is what the crew metabolizes. It is the lightest and most efficient system for a sealed cabin, and its design has applications for other high-altitude aircraft.
An onboard «wave visualization system» that graphically displays areas of rising and sinking air in cockpits. For commercial flights, following lines of rising air would allow faster climbs and save fuel, while also helping aircraft avoid dangerous phenomena such as wind shear and severe downdrafts.
Unlike powered research aircraft, Perlan 2 does not affect the temperature or chemistry of the air around it, making it an ideal platform to study the atmosphere. The experiments carried aloft in its instrument bay are yielding new discoveries related to high-altitude flight, weather and climate change.
This season, Perlan 2 is flying with experiments developed by The Perlan Project’s science and research committee, as well as projects created in collaboration with organizations and schools in the U.S. and Argentina. Perlan 2 research projects currently include:
An experiment measuring radiation effects at high altitudes, designed by students from Cazenovia Central School & Ashford School in Connecticut. This project is in coordination with Teachers in Space, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization that stimulates student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics;
A flight data recorder, developed by Argentina’s Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas para la Defensa (CITEDEF);
A second flight data recorder, designed by students at Argentina’s La Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN);
A space weather (radiation) instrument;
An experiment titled «Marshmallows in Space», developed by the Oregon Museum of Science & Discovery to teach the scientific process to preschoolers.
Two new environmental sensors, developed by The Perlan Project.
The Perlan 2 will continue to pursue higher altitude flights and conduct research in the stratosphere as weather and winds permit through the middle of September.
About Airbus Perlan Mission II
Airbus Perlan Mission II is an initiative to fly an engineless glider to the edge of space, higher than any other winged aircraft has operated in level, controlled flight, to open up a world of new discoveries related to high-altitude flight, weather and climate change. This historic endeavor is the culmination of decades of research and engineering innovation, and the work of a tireless international team of aviators and scientists who volunteer their time and expertise for the non-profit Perlan Project. The project is supported by Airbus and a group of other sponsors that includes Weather Extreme Ltd., United Technologies and BRS Aerospace.
The best-selling jetliner is considered for a wide range of ISR and transport operations
Having made its mark in the commercial airline sector, the A320neo is now being considered by Airbus for new applications: as a highly-capable and cost-effective platform for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) duties and as a military transport.
The variant – designated A320M3A – would be designed to fulfill a range of ISR roles, particularly maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare. It also can be outfitted with modular roll-on/roll-off payloads for airlift missions ranging from carrying passengers, troops and VIPs to medical evacuation (medevac) and transporting cargo.
Airbus’ consideration of the A320M3A is in response to market demand, spurred by the growing use of more capable ISR systems – which require physically larger host platforms with increased electrical power and more efficient cooling systems than previously were the case for C4ISR aircraft.
A proven, low-risk solution
One of the biggest applications of the A320M3A is for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare, with countries in Europe and elsewhere seeking replacements for ageing aircraft – many of which will be encouraged to develop fleet commonality driven by the intensive growth of joint operations with member nations of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
Advantages in offering the New Engine Option (NEO) version of Airbus’ A320 commercial jetliner include an extensive capability for growth in a fuselage cross-section that is wider than its competitor in the same size category, the long range and endurance, as well as the lowest operational and life-cycle costs in its class. Other pluses for the A320M3A are the aircraft’s high reliability (proven in airline service), and the resources of an established worldwide supply chain and training network.
The A320M3A also benefits from being a low-risk solution: being based on Airbus’ highly-mature A320 airliner family in high-rate production; and building on the company’s proven capabilities in producing military derivatives of its commercial aircraft – such as the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), which is in use by military services around the globe.
Donauwörth, The Hungarian Ministry of Defence has ordered 20 H145M military helicopters equipped with the innovative HForce weapon management in the frame of the military modernisation programme Zrinyi 2026. Together with the helicopters, Airbus will provide an extensive training and support package.
«We are honoured to be of service – once more – to the Hungarian Ministry of Defence whom we today welcome as a new customer for our H145M helicopters. With this new order, we are fostering our excellent and trustful relationship with the Hungarian Armed Forces after their acquisition of two A319 military troop transporters last year. Team Airbus is grateful for the continued trust and confidence that the Hungarian government has placed in our products», said Tom Enders, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus.
With a maximum take-off weight of 3.7 tonnes, the H145M can be used for a wide range of tasks, including troop transport, utility, surveillance, air rescue, armed reconnaissance and medical evacuation. The Hungarian fleet will be equipped with a fast roping system, high-performance camera, fire support equipment, ballistic protection as well as an electronic countermeasures system to support the most demanding operational requirements. The HForce system, developed by Airbus Helicopters, will allow Hungary to equip and operate their aircraft with a large set of ballistic or guided air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons.
The H145M is a tried-and-tested light twin-engine helicopter that was first delivered in 2015 to the German Armed Forces and has since been ordered by Thailand and the Republic of Serbia. The programme’s maturity allows Airbus Helicopters to execute orders on cost and on schedule. Mission readiness of the H145Ms already in service is above 95 percent.
Powered by two Safran Arriel 2E engines, the H145M is equipped with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC). In addition, the helicopter is equipped with the Helionix digital avionics suite which includes a high-performance 4-axis autopilot, increasing safety and reducing pilot workload. Its particularly low acoustic footprint makes the H145M the quietest helicopter in its class.
In 2014, the Royal Thai Army acquired six UH-72A Lakota helicopters from Airbus Group through the US’s foreign military sales programme. After receiving training and in-country support, the Lakotas’ first two years in operation have gone smoothly, an example of hard work and dedicated personnel.
The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is Thailand’s largest military branch. In addition to conventional military undertakings, its airborne arm is responsible for Emergency Medical Services (EMS), evacuation, reconnaissance and utility services. Its rotorcraft fleet comprises a variety of makes, many of which – as in the case of its Vietnam-era Huey helicopters – are in need of replacement.
To this end, the RTA acquired six new Lakota helicopters from Airbus’ North American division, Airbus Helicopters, Inc., in 2014. For the army’s pilots, like Captain Pongsaton, the commander of the RTA who has experience on the older helicopters, the new aircraft offer a distinct advantage. «The Lakota is very easy to fly. We mainly fly utility, transporting equipment to the mountains or jungle, and we need to take off in confined areas. The Lakota’s instruments and autopilot systems help us avoid obstacles».
The RTA’s purchase of the Lakotas came with a unique support set-up: five weeks of training for pilots and maintenance personnel at the division’s headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas, followed by support in the form of one field service and one logistics representative in Thailand.
«The RTA saw that in-country support was needed because it was the first time they had acquired this type of helicopter», says Chong Eu Chuah, the contractor field service representative (CFSR) from Airbus. «My role is part of Airbus’ support guarantee to ensure a smooth entry into service for the Lakotas in Thailand».
Originally a technician at Airbus Singapore, Chuah trained for a month in Texas along with Chong Siew Fwai, the Contractor Logistics Service Rep (CLSR). They joined a group of six RTA pilots and ten technicians who would complete theory and simulator instruction, as well as flight training on the UH-72A. In all, 18 pilots and 30 technicians trained through the programme. «We got to know our future colleagues well, as well as setting up lines of communication», says Chuah. «By the time the aircraft arrived in-country we were ready to assume our duties».
In Thailand, Chuah’s responsibilities vary from troubleshooting and on-the-job training, to supporting maintenance or supplying technical assistance at one of the RTA’s five bases – Phitsanulok, Lopburi, Roi Et, Bangkok, and Nakkon Si Thammarat. «For troubleshooting, I normally drive to the sites», he says. «If it is too far (Nakhon Si Thammarat is 900 km/559 miles from Lopburi), I travel by commercial airlines. It is a tiring job but we show commitment to our customer».
Speaking for the RTA’s technical staff, one mechanic offered the comment, «The RTA’s missions cannot be carried out if we don’t have perfect maintenance and a great contribution from the US Army and Airbus Helicopters in sending someone who is an expert».
On the logistics side, Chong Siew Fwai set up a warehouse and inventory of Lakota spares, equipment and tools. Based in Bangkok, he handles purchase orders, equipment loans, parts shipments, and consults on nearly all logistics issues that come up with the new Lakotas.
The entry into service was not without a snag. «During the initial entry into service, we faced some avionics problems, possibly due to humidity during the sea journey from the USA coupled with the rainy season in Thailand», says Chuah. However, with time, his help has shifted from problem-solving to supplying hand’s on – or even remote – training. «As the mechanics gain more experience, I do not travel to the sites as often. I can provide instructions, drawings, photos and video through smartphone».
During their two years in operation, the RTA’s Lakotas have seen an availability rate of 100% when the aircraft are not scheduled for maintenance. «We selected the Lakota for use as a utility helicopter», says one pilot, speaking on behalf of his colleagues. «We like the UH-72A because it is large, comfortable and easy to fly. It’s almost too powerful when hovering into a nose wind and very stable with low vibration».
Behind the Lakotas’ success is a team of dedicated people. «Chong Siew Fwai and I stayed on in Grand Prairie after the type course training to meet key personnel at Airbus in the technical support and logistics departments», says Chuah. «It is easier to help someone you know than a total stranger. I believe these are the reasons for the Lakotas’ smooth entry into service».
At the end of August, the H145M performed its first flight with a complete HForce weapon system in Donauwörth. Thanks to this modular weapon system designed by Airbus, the H145M can be equipped with all kind of guided and ballistic armaments such as missiles and laser guided rockets, guns, machine guns and rockets. The qualification of HForce for use on the H145M is planned for 2018.
«The next steps prior to qualification include a firing campaign, testing the whole fire mission spectrum through guns, cannons and rockets in Hungary as well as tests on the laser-guided rockets in Sweden before the end of the year», said Jean-Luc André, HForce Program Manager at Airbus Helicopters. «As the launch customer for the H145M with the HForce weapon system, the Republic of Serbia has ordered nine H145M aircraft, including four attack helicopters equipped with HForce», he added.
HForce is a comprehensive, modular and cost-efficient weapon system that can be used on any military version of Airbus’ civil helicopter range (H125M, H145M and H225M). The flexible weapon management system enables armies around the world to complement their fleets with specialised versions of light attack helicopters.
The H145M is the military version of the tried-and-tested, twin-engine H145 civil helicopter that was first delivered in 2014. The entire H145 fleet has now clocked up more than 60,000 flight hours. With a maximum take-off weight of 3.7 tonnes/8,157 lbs, the agile light attack H145M, which perfectly matches the needs of Special Forces, can be used for a wide range of tasks, including armed reconnaissance, ground fire support, escort, tactical transport, MEDEVAC and CASEVAC. Customers for the H145M include the German Armed Forces – which in June received their 15th H145M LUH SOF helicopter on time and on budget – as well as the Republic of Serbia and the Kingdom of Thailand.
Astro Aerospace, a Northrop Grumman Corporation business, completed a successful Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the nine-meter L-band reflectors for two Airbus Inmarsat-6 series satellites.
The success of the PDR is a significant milestone for the Inmarsat-6 program. With the preliminary design of the L-band reflectors now set, Astro Aerospace will continue maturing the design in preparation for the Critical Design Review (CDR) later this year.
«We are proud to support Airbus Defence and Space and the Inmarsat program», said John A. Alvarez, general manager, Astro Aerospace. «Astro Aerospace’s unique AstroMesh technology is particularly well suited for Inmarsat-6’s L-band capacity, which is significantly greater than the capacity of previous satellites and capable of supporting a new generation of more advanced L-band services. AstroMesh deployable mesh reflectors are made of the lightest and stiffest materials available, making them well suited for such missions. I also want to thank the combined Astro-Airbus-Inmarsat team that worked tirelessly to ensure a successful PDR».
Astro Aerospace (www.northropgrumman.com/astro) is the leading pioneer of space deployable technology and structures that have enabled critical complex missions to Earth’s orbit, Mars and beyond. Astro Aerospace’s hardware is characterized by its light weight structural design and robust deployment kinematics. Since 1958, Astro Aerospace has successfully deployed technology on hundreds of space flights with a 100 percent success rate, a testament to Northrop Grumman’s commitment to reliability, quality and affordability.
It said in the Defense-aerospace.com that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to begin contract negotiations for acquiring 56 Airbus C-295 transport aircraft as replacements for its ageing Avro HS-748 aircraft.
According to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, due attention is being paid to all assets of IAF, fighters and transporters included, and that «contract negotiations for 56 C-295 aircraft to replace the ageing Avro fleet are likely to commence shortly».
Separately, official sources indicated that the Border Security Force (BSF) is also looking at four C-295s for movement of its troopers within the country.
That takes the projected number to 60, but as the aircraft will be made in India by the Tata Group, their number should go up eventually, keeping in mind the regional connectivity plans of the Civil Aviation Ministry, particularly in India’s northern Himalayan cities.
Airbus officials have also said they are looking at a sizeable share of the Indian civil aviation market, pointing out that the C-295 is already operational in 19 countries.
The air chief’s statement is significant as it clearly indicates that the process of acquiring the C-295s is now on a firm track.
The aircraft is to be made in India by the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. (TASL) in partnership with Airbus, and as per their announcement in 2014, once a contract is awarded, Airbus Defence and Space will supply the first 16 aircraft in «fly-away» condition from its own final assembly line in Spain and the subsequent 40 aircraft will be manufactured and assembled by TASL.
The arrangement will include undertaking structural assembly, final aircraft assembly, systems integration and testing, and management of the indigenous supply chain.
Asked how the IAF was overcoming many challenges in the transport domain, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said that IAF will also induct another six Lockheed Martin C-130J Special Operations aircraft within the first half of 2017 while one more Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft is being acquired to take their number to 11. Ten C-17s are already operational with the IAF.
It may be recalled that IAF has already inducted the first lot of six C-130Js. One of them, however, had crashed and a case has now been made for its replacement.
About the AN-32 aircraft, which is the workhorse of the IAF and has been under upgrades, he said that their first lot is due for «phase out in 2023-24 and a suitable replacement will be considered at an appropriate time».
The IAF had acquired more than 100 AN 32s beginning mid-1980s from the Soviet Union, and these are being upgraded by Ukraine, which is now an independent state after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
About the Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) that was proposed (in 2007) to be designed and built in collaboration with Russia, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said that «the agreement with Russia for MTA could not mature as their proposal did not meet some of the Air Staff Qualitative requirements (ASRs)».
The Spanish Air Force has taken delivery of its first Airbus A400M new generation airlifter – the most advanced aircraft to have been produced in Spain and one which will transform the nation’s air mobility fleet.
Today’s contractual handover of the first of 27 aircraft that it has ordered makes Spain the sixth nation to put the A400M into service.
Representatives of the Spanish Air Force and Ministry of Defence formally accepted the aircraft, known as MSN44, from Airbus Defence and Space in a brief ceremony at the A400M Final Assembly Line (FAL) in Seville.
Airbus Defence and Space Head of Military Aircraft, Fernando Alonso, said: «Today is truly a special day for all of us who have been involved with the A400M programme over the years – but particularly for the Seville workforce that has worked so hard to make the aircraft a reality. Every delivery to every customer is of huge importance to us, but being able to hand over the first aircraft to Spain from our final assembly line in Seville is a source of particular pride. I would like to thank all our employees, as well as Organisation conjointe de coopération en matière d’armement (OCCAR) and our Spanish customer for achieving this milestone».
In Spanish service the A400M will replace the ageing C-130 aircraft type, carrying about twice the load over the same distance, or the same load twice as far. In addition, it can serve as a tactical air-to-air tanker for other transport aircraft, including other A400Ms.
Uniquely it is able both to cruise at jet-like speeds and altitudes over intercontinental ranges due to its four extremely powerful engines and advanced aerodynamic design, as well as to operate repeatedly from short and unprepared airstrips close to the scene of military action or humanitarian crisis.
Under an agreement signed in September, 14 aircraft will be delivered at a steady pace between now and 2022, and the remaining 13 are scheduled for delivery from 2025 onwards.
The Spanish A400M fleet will be based at Zaragoza in North East Spain and will represent the heavylift element of a transport force that includes the medium C295 and CN235, and light C212 aircraft – all produced by Airbus Defence and Space. MSN44 will fly to Zaragoza in the coming days.
Altogether more than 1600 employees from Airbus Defence and Space work in Spain for the A400m program, including 1100 working directly at the Seville FAL and nearby Tablada Factory. To date eight nations have ordered 174 aircraft of which 34 have now been delivered.
Aircraft leaves final assembly line at Seville to serve at Zaragoza base