A Royal Australia Air Force KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport has returned home from successful refuelling trials with the F-35A Lightning II, better known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Operating from Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert, the RAAF KC-30A flew 12 sorties with a United States Air Force F-35A from 23 September to 26 October.
Using the 18-metre-long Advanced Refuelling Boom System (ARBS) mounted on the tail of the KC-30A, the RAAF crew made a total of 479 ‘dry’ and 24 ‘wet’ contacts with the refuelling receptacle on the F-35A, and transferred more than 95 tonnes of fuel.
KC-30A Transition and Receiver Clearance Manager Wing Commander Grant Kelly said the trials would allow RAAF and foreign F-35As alike to be refuelled.
“These trials are another important step in building KC-30A capability and the results will inform the training practices of current and future RAAF personnel on both aircraft types,” Wing Commander 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.”
As well as the ARBS, the KC-30A is also equipped with hose-and-drogue refuelling pods that are compatible with Air Force’s Hornets, Super Hornets and Growlers. A single KC-30A can carry a fuel load of more than 100 tonnes and remain 1800 kilometres from its home base with 50 tonnes of fuel available for offload, for four hours.
“The impact of the KC-30A is already being felt in the Middle East Region, where the ARBS and hose-and-drogue capabilities are enabling RAAF and Coalition aircraft to fly sorties of more than 10 hours,” Wing Commander Kelly said.
“After more than a year of deployed KC-30A operations, it has built a reputation as the ‘Coalition tanker of choice’.”
Throughout the trials at Edwards Air Force Base, the KC-30A was operated by personnel from No. 33 Squadron. A flight test team from the RAAF’s Aircraft Research and Development Unit, supported by flight test instrumentation engineers from the Aerospace Systems Engineering Squadron, was integrated within the USAF Test Centre to work on a dynamic test program.
The KC-30A capability will continue growing, with the next series of refuelling trials to include the C-17A Globemaster and P-8A Poseidon.
The fleet of five KC-30As at RAAF Base Amberley will be supplemented by two more aircraft in 2018.
Australia has committed to 72 F-35As to be based at RAAF Bases Williamtown and Tindal, with the first aircraft arriving in late 2018. The F-35A will replace the ageing F/A-18A/B Hornet with a 5th-generation networked fighter aircraft.