This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
The Australian Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), the first developmental Airbus A330-based tanker, has been grounded since March while receiving new parts for its refueling boom system.
The MRTT also is receiving some production configuration equipment, such as the remote air refueling station and other mission systems, during this time on the ground. This follows what Northrop Grumman officials say was the first phase of MRTT flight-test last year and this year.
The MRTT is expected to return to flight by September, according to Tim Paynter, a Northrop Grumman spokesman. He declined to provide dates for when the A330-based boom is expected to transfer fuel in flight to a receiver.
What is actually being done to the boom during this period is a bit murky. The boom will receive some additional parts and modifications while the aircraft is on the ground. The actual structure of the boom on the MRTT will remain on the aircraft. But, EADS is switching out some parts and bringing it up to a full production configuration, Paynter said.
This is the same boom that was showcased by EADS during last years Paris Air Show. EADS has developed this boom specifically to compete with Boeing in the international tanker market. The boom on the A330 has not yet been extended during flight.
The boom system has been flying on an A310 test bed conducting various risk reduction activities. It first passed fuel to a receiver, an F-16, on Feb. 29 (Aerospace DAILY, April 4).
William Welser, Northrop Grumman Air Mobility Systems vice president, discussed the plans for MRTT during a luncheon April 29 in Arlington, Va., hosted by the National Aeronautical Association. Until this briefing, Northrop Grumman and EADS North America, its U.S. tanker partner, had been tight-lipped about the systems status.
The Australian tanker program was previously restructured to allow more time for development, though a slide in Welsers briefing says the program is now on schedule, on performance [and] on cost. It is slated for delivery to Australia in March 2009.
The Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team won the U.S. Air Forces contract for development of a future tanker in February, but work has been stopped on the program since last month when Boeing, its rival, filed a protest of the award with the Government Accountability Office. GAO is expected to rule on the matter June 19.