A Royal Australian Air Force airborne tanker lost part of its boom during a training flight with a Portugese Air Force F-16.
"The incident resulted in the detachment and partial loss of the refuelling boom from the MRTT, which fell into the sea. Both aircraft suffered some damage but returned safely to their home airfields," according to a statement from the Australian Ministry of Defense.
The plane was being flown by Airbus Military personnel, not pilots from the RAAF. The Aussie tanker is very similar to the one that EADS NA hopes to sell to the Pentagon. We hear the likeliest cause may have may well be pilot error. The Aussie tankers have received their certification. This tanker had already performed 13 contacts during this sortie and the two Aussie tankers flying have successfully offloaded 1 million pounds of fuel, making it less likely that a systemic problem exists.
As a receiving plane gets fuel the pilot has to continually adjust the attitude and speed of his plane as its center of gravity and weight shifts. Pull too far up or fall too far back and the boom can bust or whipsaw upwards.
EADS NA has not had anything to say about this yet, beyond noting it is way too early to figure out what went wrong. Boeing supporters are sure to be forwarding the Australian statement around, if only to raise questions in the minds of lawmakers.