The A400M, a tactical airlift aircraft with strategic range, is capable of refueling several types of aircraft, including fighter aircraft.
Refueling is possible through two lateral points via a refueling pod attached under the wing (for fighters) or by a fuselage-mounted HDU (Hose Drum Unit) refueling unit for transport aircraft and fighters. An forthcoming specific version of the underwing nacelle will allow refueling of helicopters.
After a flight test campaign conducted by the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) with the support of the French Air Force, the A400M has just passed a new milestone by demonstrating its ability to refuel the Rafale fighter using its underwing nacelles.
During these tests, the Rafale was refueled by the A400M throughout its flight envelope (at various altitudes and speeds) including in so-called degraded aircraft modes of the aircraft: simulated failure of an engine and flight controls.
The tests were conducted by day and night, including with night vision goggles, in several Rafale configurations (light aircraft, rear-heavy attitude with high drag generation).
DGA’s In-Flight Trials unit conducted, with the support of the Air Force’s Military Air Expertise Center (CEAM), these tests that will allow DGA, acting as technical authority for State-owned aircraft, to very shortly authorize the Rafale to be refueled on A400M.
The Air Force, for its part, is working to determine the conditions for putting of this new capacity into service in an operational context, by setting up the means of its implementation (procedures, technical support, training, etc.). The A400M will then be able to offer a theater refueling capacity.
Further flight refueling campaigns are planned for 2019, such as the twin refueling of the Mirage 2000 via the nacelles, and of other transport aircraft through the centerline HDU refueling point.