Green light for RAAF's Joint Strike Fighter after US success

MORE than 11 tonnes of fuel have been transferred from a RAAF KC-30A to a US Air Force F-35A Lightening II in refuelling trials above the Californian desert.

Both aircraft flew 15 sorties from Edwards Air Force Base during October.

The KC-30A's 18m long advanced refuelling boom system made 508 "dry" and 31 "wet" contacts in trials conducted by day, at dusk and by night.

The F-35A can carry ordnance internally and under its wings, and the trials involved refuelling the aircraft in all its configurations.

The trials' success means RAAF F-35As will be able to make their ferry flights to Australia from 2018.

The fleet of five KC-30As at RAAF Base Amberley will be supplemented by two more aircraft in 2018.

SUCCESS: A RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport makes contact with a US Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighter.
SUCCESS: A RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport makes contact with a US Air Force F-35A Joint Strike Fighter. Tom Reynolds

The KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport is a heavily modified Airbus A330 airliner.

KC-30A Transition and Receiver Clearance Manager Wing Commander Grant Kelly said the trails showed KC-30As would be able to refuel both RAAF and foreign boom-capable F-35As.

"These trials are another important step in building KC-30A capability and the results will inform the training practices of RAAF personnel on both aircraft types," Wing Cdr Kelly said.

"Air-to-air refuelling will be an important force multiplier for the F-35A fleet, considerably boosting their range and endurance, or allowing them to carry bigger payloads."

Each F-35A has an internal fuel capacity of 8.9 tonnes, while the KC-30A can carry more than 100 tonnes of fuel.

The KC-30A can remain 1800km from home with 50 tonnes of fuel available for offload for up to four hours.

As with the F/A-18 Hornets, air-to-air refuelling will boost range, endurance and payload of the F-35A.

"The impact of the KC-30A is already being felt in the Middle East region, where the advanced refuelling boom system and hose-and-drogue capabilities are enabling RAAF and Coalition aircraft to fly sorties of more than 10 hours," Wing Cdr Kelly said.

"After more than a year of deployed KC-30A operations, it has built a reputation as the coalition tanker of choice."

For the trials in California, the KC-30A detachment, led by KC-30A captain Sqn Ldr Dirk Petrusma, included aircrew and an eight-man maintenance detachment from No.33 Squadron, as well as two test air refuelling operators.

Supporting the KC-30A detachment was a flight test team from Aircraft Research and Development Unit, backed by flight test instrumentation engineers from Aerospace Systems Engineering Squadron.