The Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft based on the civilian Airbus A330.
A total of 12 nations have placed firm orders for approximately 60 aircraft, of which 42 had been delivered by 31st January 2020. A version of the A330 MRTT, the EADS/Northrop Grumman KC-45, was proposed to the United States Air Force for their aerial tanker replacement program but was not successful.
Design and development
The Airbus A330 MRTT is a military derivative of the A330-200 airliner. It is designed as a dual-role air-to-air refuelling and transport aircraft. For air-to-air refuelling missions the A330 MRTT can be equipped with a combination of any of the following systems.
The A330 MRTT has a maximum fuel capacity of 111,000 kg (245,000 lb) without the use of additional fuel tanks, which leaves space for the carriage of 45,000 kg (99,000 lb) of additional cargo. The A330 MRTT’s wing has common structure with the four-engine A340-200/-300 with reinforced mounting locations and provision for fuel piping for the A340’s outboard engines. The A330 MRTT’s wing therefore requires little modification for use of these hardpoints for the wing refuelling pods.
The A330 MRTT cabin can be modified to carry up to 380 passengers in a single class configuration, allowing a complete range of configurations from maximised troop transport to complex customisation suitable for VIP and guest missions. Available configurations include 300 passengers in a single class and 266 passengers in two classes. The A330 MRTT can also be configured to perform Medical Evacuation (Medevac) missions; up to 130 standard stretchers can be carried. The main deck cargo configuration allows carriage of standard commercial containers and pallets, military, ISO and NATO pallets (including seats) and containers, and military equipment and other large items which are loaded through a cargo door. Like the A330-200, the A330 MRTT includes two lower deck cargo compartments (forward and aft) and a bulk area capability. The cargo hold has been modified to be able to transport up to 8 military pallets in addition to civilian Unit Load Device (ULD).
An optional crew rest compartment (CRC), located in the forward cabin can be installed for a spare crew to increase time available for a mission. The passenger cabin of the A330 MRTT can be provided with a set of removable airstairs to enable embarkation and disembarkation when airbridges or ground support equipment are not available.
Standard commercial A330-200s are delivered from Airbus Final Assembly Line in Toulouse (France) to Airbus Military Conversion Centre in Getafe, Spain for fitting of refuelling systems and military avionics. The tanker was certified by Spanish authorities in October 2010. It was first delivered to Australia on 1st June 2011. Qantas Defence Services converted the remaining four A330-200s at its Brisbane Airport facility on behalf of EADS for the Royal Australian Air Force.
On 30th September 2016, Airbus Defence and Space completed the first flight of the new standard A330 MRTT. The new standard features structural modifications, aerodynamic improvements for a 1% fuel-burn reduction, upgraded avionics computers, and enhanced military systems. The first delivery is planned for 2018.
The Airbus/Saab team proposed an A330-based airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) (“AWACS”) variant with Saab’s Erieye radar to the UK’s Ministry of Defence in 2018 for the replacement of its E-3D fleet.
The A330 MRTT has been ordered by Australia, France, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and by NATO in a multi-Nation deal. Australia was the launch customer for the A330 MRTT.
Designated as KC-30A, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) A330 MRTTs are equipped with both an Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) and two Cobham 905E under-wing refuelling pods. The aircraft are powered by two General Electric CF6-80E1A3 engines. Australia initially arranged to procure four aircraft with an option to obtain a fifth; this option for a fifth aircraft was exercised to allow for two simultaneous deployments of two aircraft, the fifth being for contingency coverage. Australian KC-30A are operated by No. 33 Squadron RAAF based at RAAF Base Amberley. Australia’s aircraft are configured for 270 passengers plus 34,000 kilograms of cargo.
In 2005, the RAAF expected deliveries to begin in 2008 and end in 2010. Deliveries fell two years behind schedule, partly due to delays in developing the boom. On 30th May 2011, KC-30A A39-003, the third converted A330, arrived at RAAF Base Amberley and was formally handed over on 1st June 2011. The second A330 conversion, A39-002 was handed over to the RAAF on 22nd June 2011. On 3rd December 2012, the fifth KC-30A was delivered to the RAAF. In July 2013, there were reportedly delays to the KC-30A’s full service entry due to refuelling system issues, including the hose-and-drogue system passing too much fuel.
In August 2013, the KC-30A made its debut as a VIP transport, ferrying Prime Minister Rudd and an entourage to Al Minhad Air Base, United Arab Emirates. In August 2014, Defence Minister David Johnston announced the intention to buy two more KC-30As, one with a VIP layout for the Prime Minister’s use. In July 2015, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews announced the order of two additional KC-30s, based on A330-200s previously operated by Qantas, to be delivered in 2018. In 2016, it was decided to add a “modest” VIP fitout, including seating, meeting spaces and communication facilities, to a single KC-30, which remains primarily used as a tanker. In 2015, the ordering of a sixth and seventh KC-30A was announced by the Australian government. The 2016 Defence White Paper noted a possible rise in the fleet’s size to nine to support new RAAF aircraft like the P-8A Poseidon.
On 22nd September 2014, the RAAF deployed an Air Task Group, including F/A-18F Super Hornets, a KC-30A and an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft, to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, as part of a coalition to combat Islamic State forces in Iraq. The KC-30 started operations days after arriving in the UAE, refueling coalition aircraft over Iraq. On 6th October 2014, the RAAF made their first combat missions over Iraq via two Super Hornets supported by the KC-30.
In December 2016 an RAAF KC-30 conducted air-to-air refueling trials with a US Air Force B-1B bomber.
In January 2004, the UK Ministry of Defence announced the selection of an A330 MRTT variant to provide tanking service for the RAF for the next 30 years under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme, replacing the RAF’s TriStar and VC10 tankers. The Ministry of Defence entered negotiations with the EADS-led AirTanker consortium. On 27th March 2008, a deal was signed to lease 14 aircraft under a private finance initiative arrangement with AirTanker, with the first to enter service in 2011. The annual cost of the service, including military personnel costs is around £450 million for a delivery of 18,000 flying hours a rate of approximately £25,000 per hour. There are two versions, designated Voyager KC2 and Voyager KC3; the former is fitted with two Cobham 905E under-wing refuelling pods, the latter with a Cobham 805E Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRUin addition to the under-wing pods; none are fitted with the Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS). All Voyagers are powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Trent 772B-60 engines.
By May 2014, nine aircraft had been delivered, completing the “core fleet”. Further deliveries were for a “surge capability”, available to the RAF when needed, but otherwise available to AirTanker for “release to the civil market, less its military equipment or to partner nations in a military capacity with the MoD’s agreement”. By 14th March 2016, all 14 Voyagers had been delivered. In November 2015, it was announced that an RAF A330 MRTT would be refitted to carry government ministers and members of the Royal Family on official visits. The refit would cost £10m but would save around £775,000 annually compared to chartering flights. The aircraft, nicknamed “Cam Force One” by some in the media (like the “Air Force One” call sign for the US President’s transport), is fitted with 158 seats. It entered service on 6th May 2016, the then Prime Minister David Cameron made his first flight on it to attend the 2016 Warsaw summit. In June 2020, the government announced that the VIP fitted aircraft would receive a new livery based on the colours of the Union Flag, intended “to promote Britain globally” following the country’s departure from the European Union. Although undertaken as part of the aircraft’s routine maintenance period, the cost of the new livery was announced at approximately £900,000, with it being seen as a response to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who had stated while Foreign Secretary of his dislike of the standard two-tone grey livery. The new livery led to criticism from some quarters, with opposition politicians suggesting the cost would have been better spent in other areas during the Covid-19 pandemic, while some military experts stated that its usefulness as a military asset could be compromised.
Because the RAF’s Voyagers are only capable of probe-and-drogue refueling, they are unable to refuel current or future RAF aircraft that are fitted solely for flying boom refueling, including the RC-135 Rivet Joint, C-17 Globemaster, E-7 Wedgetail and P-8 Poseidon. In April 2016, the RAF stated its interest in the idea of fitting a boom to some of the Voyager fleet, bringing its aircraft into line with other A330 MRTT operators. Fitting a boom would add flexibility to the RAF Voyager fleet, not only allowing operation with those types in the RAF not fitted for probe and drogue but for other air forces that operate boom refueled aircraft.
An Airbus A330 Voyager aircraft broke the record for the fastest crossing between the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands, completing the 12,657 kilometres (6,834 nmi) journey in just 15 hours and nine minutes on 2nd June 2020.
United Arab Emirates
In 2007, the United Arab Emirates announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Airbus to purchase three A330 MRTT. A contract was signed with the UAE in February 2008. The first UAE A330 MRTT was delivered on 6th February 2013. The remaining two were delivered by 6th August 2013. The UAE tankers are equipped with both an ARBS and two Cobham 905E under-wing refuelling pods; these ARBS units include a secondary boom hoist developed for the UAE. This system permits the boom to be retracted, even in the event of a primary boom retraction system failure. The UAE tankers are fitted with Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines.
Saudi Arabia finalised an agreement to purchase three A330 MRTT equipped with both an Aerial Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) and two Cobham 905E under-wing refuelling pods, on 3rd January 2008. In July 2009 it was announced that Saudi Arabia ordered three additional A330 MRTT tankers. RSAF chose the General Electric CF6-80 to power its A330 MRTTs.
On 25th February 2013, the first A330 MRTT entered operational use. Three more A330 MRTTs have been ordered in a follow-on contract, delivery was expected in late 2014. By 31st August 2013, three had been delivered.
In February 2012, Singapore expressed interest in the A330 MRTT to replace its four KC-135s. In February 2014, the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) selected the A330 MRTT over the Boeing KC-46, and signed for six aircraft. They are fitted with Trent 772B engines and configured for a maximum capacity of 266 passengers or 37,000 kilograms (82,000 lb) of cargo, as well as a maximum fuel weight of 111,000 kilograms (245,000 lb).
The first A330 MRTT arrived in Singapore on 14th August 2018 in a special livery. It made its first public appearance at the RSAF’s 50th anniversary parade on 1st September 2018.
On 30th June 2015, South Korea selected the A330 MRTT; the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) planned to induct four tankers by 2020. The first A330 MRTT was delivered on 12th November 2018, after a ferry flight from Airbus’ final assembly line in Getafe, Spain to South Korea, piloted by a joint Airbus and ROKAF crew. Designated KC-330 Cygnus, it extends the endurance of ROKAF aircraft over remote areas such as Dokdo, Ieodo, and the North Pyongyang-Wonsan Line, as well as increase its ability to deploy overseas for international operations. South Korea received its first A330 MRTT in January 2019, and its second A330 MRTT in March 2019.
In November 2011, France expressed interest in acquiring 14 A330 MRTTs to replace its KC-135 tankers, A340 and A310 transports; one year later, it was announced that 14 would be ordered in 2013. In May 2013, Airbus made an offer for 12 to 14 A330 MRTTs to France. On 20th February 2014, the French Chief of Staff stated that 12 A330 MRTTs would be acquired in two batches, an initial standard configuration with a boom and wing refuelling pods and later with a cargo door and SATCOM. On 15th December 2015, France ordered eight A330 MRTTs, constituting the second tranche of a multi-year contract for 12 A330 MRTTs, worth €3 billion ($3.3 billion), signed by the French Ministry of Defence in November 2014. Initial deliveries were expected in 2018, with further handovers of one or two per year until 2025.
In September 2018, the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) announced plans to speed up delivery of the A330 MRTT Phénix, as it is known in French service, by two years, planning for the last of 12 aircraft to be delivered in 2023 rather than 2025. In addition, the DGA stated that the fleet would be later increased to 15 aircraft. Later in September, the French Air Force received the first A330 MRTT as per the existing timetable. On 13th December 2018, France ordered another three A330 MRTTs of a third tranche of the multi-year contract; these are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines and equipped with the ARBS and underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods.
Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet
In November 2011, the European Defence Agency (EDA) Steering Board and European Defence Ministers endorsed air-to-air refuelling (AAR) as one of the initial Pooling and Sharing initiatives after recognising the need for a greater AAR capability as it was heavily reliant on US Air Force tanker aircraft during the 2011 military intervention in Libya. In November 2012, the Ministers of Defence of 10 EDA member states (the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal and Norway) signed a letter of intent to jointly procure a multi-role tanker transport. The Netherlands was designated leader of the newly launched Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet (MMF) project, which was launched with the aim of creating an initial European AAR capability by 2020. In 2013, the Netherlands expressed interest in the A330 MRTT to replace its two KDC-10 aircraft; a study was launched on standardising European AAR capability in cooperation with other MFF members.
In December 2014, following a request for information, the bulk of the MFF member states entered negotiations with Airbus Defence and Space (ADS) to procure a A330 MRTT fleet, what was decided to be owned by NATO while OCCAR and the NATO Support and Procurement Agency would support the procurement process. This was accompanied by a request for proposals sent to ADS by OCCAR for two A330 MRTTs with options for six more; at this point, only the Netherlands and Luxembourg were full MFF members. It was decided to base these A330 MRTTs at Eindhoven Airbase, which has the noise clearance to operate up to eight A330 MRTTs. In July 2016, the Netherlands and Luxembourg jointly ordered the first two A330 MRTTs under the MMF programme, the first scheduled for delivery by 2020. In June 2017, Germany and Norway became MMF members, pledging to order five more aircraft plus options for a further four. On 26th September 2017, ADS announced receipt of a firm order from OCCAR for five additional tankers.
The Belgian Ministry of Defence stated the intent to buy one A330 MRTT in a 2015 defence plan. The Belgian government investigated the €840 million plan, as well as the option of equipping Belgium’s seven A400M with under-wing pods; a combined Belgian A330 MRTT and A400M fleet would cost up to €1 billion. On 22nd December 2017, Belgium signed a contract for one A330 MRTT, to be based at Eindhoven Airbase, bringing the total MMF fleet to 8 aircraft and officially joined the program on 14th February 2018.
On 19th December 2017, NATO partnered with Israel’s Elbit Systems to provide J-Music electronic countermeasures systems to the fleet. Having considered joining the initiative for some time, the Czech Republic joined as the sixth member during October 2019.
Out of the total of 8 aircraft currently on order, 5 will be based at Eindhoven AirBase (MOB) and 3 at Koln-Bonn Airbase (FOB). On 29th June 2020, Airbus delivered the first of eight A330 MRTT aircraft.
An Airbus A330-200 converted by Airbus Military for air-refuelling duties.
Australian designation for an A330 MRTT with two under-wing refuelling pods and an Aerial Refuelling Boom System.
United States Air Force designation for an A330 MRTT with two under-wing refuelling pods and an Aerial Refuelling Boom System, order cancelled.
Royal Air Force designation for an A330 MRTT with two Cobham 905 under-wing pods, primarily used for refuelling fast jets.
Royal Air Force designation for an A330 MRTT with two under-wing pods and a “Cobham Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRU)” for a centreline refuelling capability, primarily used for refuelling large aircraft.
RAF Airbus A330 Voyager KC2 (A330-243MRTT) ZZ336
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In 1954 Lockheed received approval to produce a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The creation of this aircraft went to Lockheed’s Skunk Works and the famous Kelly Johnson. The aircraft, a single-engine jet that could provide images day or night over Soviet territory, was labeled U-2 (U=utility) and given the name “Dragon Lady”. The first test flight took place in 1955 and was used by the CIA and the USAF during the Cold War. The U-2 came to international notoriety in 1960 when one piloted by Gary Power was shot down over the Soviet Union.
U-2R 68-10337 was produced in 1968 as c/n 059 and was assigned to the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB, California. In 1975 while operating with the 99th SRS in Thailand the aircraft crashed and damaged so it was sent to Palmdale to be rebuilt. In May 1982 68-10337 was transferred to Detachment 4, 9th SRW at RAF Mildenhall. In 1988 the aircraft was once again damaged and sent to Palmdale for repairs. In mid 1990s 32 U-2Rs received General Electric engines and re-designated U-2S.
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