The first Airbus Military A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport for the Royal Saudi Air Force completed its four hour maiden flight on Wednesday. The aircraft was converted by Iberia as part the partnership between Iberia Maintenance and Airbus Military.
The conversion marked the first time such a conversion was performed in Spain, where Iberia maintenance and engineering teams modified the aircraft in 16 months, Iberia said in a press release.
“It is a great satisfaction for us to have successfully completed a project which is certainly the biggest challenge we have ever faced in the transformation of aircraft,” said Jose Luis Ruiz de Castaneda, executive vice president of Iberia’s Maintenance and Engineering division.
After a final flight test on Wednesday the aircraft was delivered to Airbus Military. It will later be delivered to Saudi Arabia, which has six A330 MRTTs on order.
Other countries with MRTTs on order include Australia, the United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates. The Royal Australian Air Force is the launch customer for the aircraft. India chose the MRTT in May 2009 but cancelled the order in January 2010 citing high costs. The competition has been reopened with the MRTT again competing.
Australia’s deliveries are running two years behind schedule following problems with the refuelling boom. On January 19 a setback occurred when the refuelling boom broke off an A330 MRTT whilst refuelling a Portuguese Air Force F-16 over the Atlantic Ocean. Both aircraft were damaged but landed safely.
The Saudi aircraft to be converted by Iberia was flown in November 2009 from the Airbus plant in Toulouse, France, to Iberia’s Madrid maintenance installations, where it was equipped to carry fuel, and deliver it in mid-air to other aircraft. The A330 MRTT has a maximum fuel capacity of 111 000 kg of fuel and with standard fuel capacity the aircraft can carry an additional 45 000 kg of cargo. Refuelling other aircraft can be undertaken with Cobham underwing refuelling pods or a Cobham fuselage mounted refuelling boom. In addition, the MRTT can take on fuel from other aircraft using a universal aerial refuelling receptacle.
Iberia first disassembled the aircraft to allow structural modifications to be made. This was followed by functional tests both on the ground and in the air. The transformation of the A330 into an MRTT was completed with the configuration of the interior.
Iberia’s engineers and technicians spent 140,000 man-hours on the conversion of the A330, during which they modified 5,500 system components, making structural changes to 2,000 parts. An additional 58.5 kilometres of wiring was installed, including 1,000 metres each of coaxial cable and fibre optic cable.
The second Saudi MRTT is already being converted while a third aircraft will begin the process in the middle of this year.
Iberia has been working with military aircraft for more than twenty years, mostly regarding maintenance. In addition to the inspection and repair of the Pegasus engines used in Harrier aircraft, it maintains Boeing 707s and P3-Orions for the Spanish armed forces. It has also serviced the aircraft used by the heads of state of such countries as Argentina and Turkmenistan.