Spectacle In The Air! Germany Conducts First-Ever Inflight Refueling Between Two Of Its A-400M Aircraft

In a significant leap forward, the German Air Force has announced the successful completion of in-flight refueling between two of its own A400M aircraft. The achievement marks the first time such a feat has been accomplished by the German Air Force. 

The announcement of this achievement was made by the German Air Force through its official X (formerly Twitter) account on April 30, accompanied by released photos capturing the historic event. 

The service expressed its enthusiasm in a statement, stating, “And it continues. Today, we refueled our A400M in the air for the first time with one of our own A400Ms! This makes us even more independent and extends the range of the fleet immensely.” 

The successful buddy refueling between the German Air Force’s two A400M aircraft is poised to significantly enhance the service’s operational capabilities, allowing for extended range and increased autonomy in aerial missions.

The successful in-flight refueling follows a previous milestone achieved months ago when a German Air Force A400M received fuel for the first time from an RAF Voyager during an air-to-air refueling exercise.

That being said, Airbus first demonstrated in 2016 the capability of the A400M to conduct inflight refueling with another A400M, showcasing its versatility as a heavy military freighter. 

Unlike traditional aerial refueling aircraft equipped with a “Flying Boom,” the A400M utilizes a hose and basket system for refueling. During the test flight in 2016, over 50 mid-air refuelings were executed to ensure the efficacy of the system under various operational scenarios.

Air-to-Air Refueling

Airbus, the manufacturer of the A400M, lauded the aircraft as the most advanced, proven, and certified airlifter available, boasting state-of-the-art technologies tailored to meet the evolving needs of modern armed forces. 

The successful inflight refueling of two A400M aircraft signifies a key advancement in the German Air Force’s operational capabilities, enhancing its strategic reach and operational flexibility on the global stage.

Airbus A400M As Tanker

The Airbus A400M, characterized by its high-wing configuration, four turboprop engines, pressurized cabin, and rear cargo door, stands as a versatile strategic and tactical transport and tanker aircraft. 

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Capable of accommodating up to 116 passengers, the A400M facilitates various transport missions, with options for airdropping personnel and materiel.

Its spacious cargo hold enables the transportation of diverse equipment, including a Tiger attack helicopter, H145M light support helicopter, Wolf all-terrain vehicles, Fuchs armored transport vehicle, or Puma infantry fighting vehicle.

The A400M comes equipped with provisions for air-to-air refueling operations, requiring only the rapid installation of optional air-to-air refueling kits to transform into a tanker.

The A400M boasts a basic fuel capacity of 63,500 liters, which can be augmented with additional cargo hold tanks, each carrying 7,200 liters. With a refueling rate of 2,000 liters per minute from the hose and drum unit (HDU), the A400M can significantly extend its operational range.

German Air Force A400M. Airbus

This capability enables the A400M to carry a 20-ton payload over 6,000 nautical miles non-stop, showcasing its strategic reach and versatility in military operations. 

The A400M, functioning as a tanker, has already shown its capability to provide refueling support to various fighter aircraft like the Eurofighter, Rafale, Tornado, and F/A-18, accommodating their preferred speeds and altitudes. Additionally, it can conduct refueling operations with other sizable aircraft, such as the C295 or C-130. 

Moreover, beyond its role as a transporter and tanker, the A400M is also a vital asset for medical evacuations.

Equipped with patient transport units installed in the cargo hold, it enables the transportation of patients, including those requiring intensive care, with the necessary medical attention provided during the flight. 

All Airbus A400M aircraft operated by the German Air Force are stationed at the 62 Air Transport Wing base in Wunstorf. 

According to the German Air Force, “With the steady growth of the fleet and the continuous increase in capabilities such as protected air transport, the ability to land on unpaved runways, the night visual flight capability and airdropping of personnel and materiel, the A400M has increasingly assumed the tasks of the Transall C-160, which was phased out after the disbandment of 63 Air Transport Wing at the end of 2021.”

The Bundeswehr received its first A400M on December 18, 2014. The Air Force currently has a fleet of 42 A400M aircraft. It plans to receive the delivery of all 53 by the end of 2026.