RAAF and USAF collaborate in air-to-air refueling trials from Edwards AFB

Over almost a month-long period, a RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport from 33 Squadron provided refuelling support to a RAAF Air Force Research and Development Unit (ARDU) and a USAF co-led air-to-air refuelling clearance trial of the USAF Boeing RC-135 and A-10C Warthog (Thunderbolt II)

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RAAF and USAF collaborate in air to air refueling trials from Edwards AFB A RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport from 33 Squadron, left, conducts air-to-air refuelling trials with a US Air Force Boeing RC-135 (Picture source: US Air Force)

Conducted from Edwards Air Force Base, California, the RAAF detachment worked collaboratively with base personnel, in particular the USAF 418th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) from the 412th Test Wing.

Flight Lieutenant Jordan Smith, a qualified test pilot for the activity, said nearly 450 contacts were made across both aircraft types: “A total of 412 contacts were successfully made between the KC-30A and RC-135 over eight sorties. The RC-135 works well as a receiver for the KC-30A, as they are relatively stable in contact position and the fuel offload rate is reasonable for its size.”

The A-10C Warthog is considerably slower than the majority of aircraft the KC-30A is compatible with. However, the KC-30A also performs well at slower speeds, with 34 successful contacts made through one sortie.

The RAAF detachment consisted of ARDU flight test aircrew including one qualified test pilot and four flight test engineers, a flight test system specialist, two contractor flight test air refuelling operators and other personnel from 33 Squadron, including aircrew and maintenance personnel. The clearance trials were a result of three months of preparation to understand what data needed to be collected and the risks involved with testing.

Flight Lieutenant Smith said the first flight after months of planning was worth the wait: “It has been pretty much my sole focus for a couple of months, with a number of issues which almost stopped the program progressing. It was just great to see a RC-135 in the KC-30A cameras, moving into the contact position.”

Following the trials, the KC-30A and Boeing RC-135 air-to-air refuelling data will be processed to make the final flight test assessments of the paring for the USAF Flight Test Report which will help facilitate a series of gateway checks and once the clearance has been approved by both countries, it will be documented for future use when conducting air-to-air refuelling with the pairing. The testing with the RC-135 will also allow clearances to be issued for other USAF C-135 variants.

Continuing to develop and learn from these sorts of trials enables a deeper understanding of interoperability and strengthens the partnership between the two nations, notes Flight Lieutenant Smith: “Air-to-air refuelling provided by the KC-30A allows the RAAF to contribute to the force-extension of USAF airframes, either on exercises or future operations. It is always a rewarding opportunity to work in a bilateral arrangement, operating out of Edwards Air Force Base and alongside the 418th FLTS.”

This sentiment is shared by USAF Director of Operations, 418th FLTS, Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Lambach: “In addition to increasing the interoperability between our nations’ militaries, these opportunities to collaborate closely with another professional test organisation provide immense benefits to everyone involved by sharing best practices, lessons learned and unique flight test techniques”.