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Airbus trials autonomous aerial refuelling of unmanned aircraft

Airbus demonstrated its Auto'Mate autonomous aerial refuelling of drones using an A310 MRTT and DT-25 target drones during two trials held earlier in March 2023. (Airbus)

Airbus Defence and Space has trialled the autonomous air-to-air refuelling (AAR) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), flying two test sorties earlier in March.

Senior programme representatives told Janes and other defence media on 28 March that the two events saw the first successful AAR trials of the Auto'Mate technologies developed by Airbus UpNext, using a modified A310 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft and DT-25 target drone UAVs. These tests were the first step towards Airbus' planned Autonomous Assets Air-to-Air Refuelling (A4R) and Autonomous Formation Flight (AF2) capability for tankers.

โ€œEarly in the morning of 21 March, the A310 that was modified with all the sensors needed to perform this first demonstration took off from Getafe Airbase [near Madrid], and flew to the south of Spain where the drones were launched [from the Arenosillo Test Centre (CEDEA) at Huelva]. We performed the rendezvous manoeuvres [over the waters of the Gulf of Cadiz],โ€ said Manuel Barriopedro, the head of Auto'Mate Demonstrator at Airbus UpNext.

โ€œWe performed a second flight on 23 March, so we have flown two flights of six hours each with a total of eight drones in two different configurations. What we have achieved here is the really important milestone,โ€ he added.

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