Grumman’s Refueling System Nearly Finished Test Flight Schedule

Northrop Grumman recently recapped the company’s development schedule with regards to the development of the KC-45A that it has been developing for the US Air Force. The company has been hard at work testing the advanced fly-by-wire aerial refueling boom that is to be used in the aircraft and this aspect of the new KC-45A completed its 100th test flight last month.

The Advanced Refueling Boom System (ARBS), which was developed by EADS, has managed to accumulate more than 300 flight hours during the course of the rather extensive test and validation program. This time period includes more than 60 different ‘wet and dry’ contacts with a receiver aircraft. Testing also went a long way to successfully validate the aircraft’s fly-by-wire control laws. Other tests that were conducted included pre-contact, contact and proximity trials with five different and varied aircraft including an A330-based Royal Australian Air Force Multi-role Tanker Transport plane.

This sort of extensive testing is exactly what is needed to ensure that the aircraft meets all the requirements and standards that it has been specifically developed for. The fact that the KC-45 has completed a number of key milestones is evidence of the aircraft’s credulity. It is now clearly ready to meet the refueling needs of the US Air Force. This is something that most of its competitors are not ready to do – since many of them have yet to leave the drawing board. The fact that the state-of-the-art boom has already passed fuel in the air, logged more than 100 flights and completed more than 60 contacts with a number of different aircraft currently operating with the US and allied air forces means that it is more than ready for production and mainstream use.

The comparison between Northrop Grumman’s progress and other top competitors comes in the wake of a protest filed by rival Boeing, arguing that the US Air Force had improperly calculated the actual costs involved with operating both the Northrop Grumman and Boeing aircrafts initially proposed for the contract. The protest had merit and, though it did not indicate that Boeing’s KC-767 was better than its competitor; subsequent findings have shown that it was more efficient than the KC-45A. While the GAO ruling isn’t legally binding, it seems that the USAF will be facing significant public pressure to re-bid their contract. However the Air Force needs their new tankers now and having to spend more time waiting for the redevelopment of a new aircraft could prove to be a problem. In this instance the KC-45 has a distinct advantage but only time will tell if Northrop Grumman is able to complete the contract or if it will be awarded to a rival company.