Substantial Piece of Refueling Boom Falls Off EADS Tanker

Oops. A "substantial" part of the aerial refueling boom aboard an Airbus A330 MRTT tanker built for the Royal Australian Air Force broke off and fell into the Atlantic during a recent flight test.

While everyone aboard the (Airbus crewed) tanker and refuelee was ok, a "major part of the boom broke off part-way through refueling a Portuguese Air Force F-16 at around 5 p.m. Jan. 19," reads a Defense News article on the matter.

From an EADS statement released this morning:

The incident resulted in the detachment and partial loss of the refueling boom from the MRTT, which fell into the sea.

Both aircraft suffered some damage but returned safely to their home airfields.

This is the same boom, and according to EADS officials almost the exact same airplane, that's being offered as the KC-45 in the U.S. Air Force's $35 billion KC-X contest. It did its first wet refueling with another airplane in 2008, although it has yet to enter service anywhere.

EADS, whose North American division has the lead for its KC-X bid, is the parent company of Airbus.

EADS has repeatedly stressed the superiority of it's boom design over the last few years, insisting that it gives the A330-based tankers a critical edge in terms of fuel flow over Boeing's proposed NewGen Tanker which is based on an updated KC-767.

It's too early to tell how this will impact the competition which is likely to wrap up next month. First, investigators will need to know what on Earth caused the fairly advanced boom to fall apart. This could be a one time occurrence due to freak circumstances or it could reveal a design flaw in the system. We'll see.

I'd also like to know how often this type of thing happens with the USAF's current fleet of KC-135s and KC-10s.

Another big question is: Could the Air Force delay the contract award to give EADS time to investigate the accident?

Oh, and don't forget about Australia, which has bought five of the A330 MRTTs, the first of which is supposed to be delivered next month. What will this mean for the delivery of the Australian tankers?

Here's the article.

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