The German air force is finally getting ready to field its first A310 multi-role tanker transports.
The program to convert four of the aircraft to tankers began in 2003 and is running several years behind schedule. As the German air force points out, the Airbus/Lufthansa Technik consortium working on the aircraft took a lot longer to do the work than planned, largely because they lacked the necessary experience to do the job.
Initial plans called for all four A310s to have been converted in 2005; now, the Luftwaffe expects the last A310 to be given the tanker capability next year.
The first two A310 MRTTs are currently being used in an extensive operational evaluation, according to the German air force. The trials began about two years ago, and have seen the aircraft deploy to Holloman AFB, N. Mex., and, recently, to India. The latter mission, to help get Eurofighter Typhoon fighters to the Indian air show, was the first time the two existing A310 MRTTs deployed.
Before it started the A310 project, Germany lacked a strategic air-to-air refueling capacity, although its Tornado fighters could be fitted with a buddy-buddy tanking system to provide some basic airborne tanker capacity.
So far, the German government has cleared A310 operations with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Panavia Tornado, and the Boeing F/A-18. Germany is using only a hose-and-drogue system. Efforts to work with the Saab Gripen are taking place, and, the French air force has expressed interest in clearing the Dassault Mirage and Rafale fighters to be refueled by the Germans, a Luftwaffe officer says.
Tanker operations are managed by the Fuel Operations Officer, whose Fuel Operations Station is located just behind the cockpit and who uses a camera system to monitor refueling activities.
The A310 can be fitted with up to five auxiliary fuel tanks. Overall, the aircraft can carry 72 metric tons of fuel, with an ability to transfer fuel at a rate of 1,600 liters per minute.
The four MRTTs -- the “Otto Lilienthal," “Hermann Köhl," "Hans Grade" and "August Euler" are part of the Luftwaffe’s fleet of seven A310s; two are used for VIP transport and the third is dedicated to personnel transport.
Germany also forsees a refueling role for the A400M military airlifter.[Photos: Luftwaffe]