KC-30A for RAAF involved in in-flight incident, refueling boom lost

Australian Aviation has this story about an in-flight incident during a refueling test between the Airbus KC-30A and an F-16. Readers will recall a Boeing KC-767J for Japan Air Defense Services had an incident in which the boom wouldn’t retract for landing and was damaged on the runway, the point being both programs have now suffered incidents.

But the KC-30A incident will likely further delay delivery of the plane to the RAAF; it is already two years late. The timing couldn’t be worse for EADS, with the contract award for the USAF only weeks away.
  • Bloomberg News followed with this story.
  • FlightGlobal has this story.
  • Meanwhile, there is this story that Boeing is taking a pass on bidding for the Indian government tanker contract. A second story says uncertainty over the USAF contract outcome is why. A third story has more detail.
Defence Statement, 20 January 2011 from the RAAF:

Defence Statement

An in-flight incident occurred during a training flight for Airbus Military staff, involving an Australian KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft and a Portuguese Air Force F-16 fighter aircraft.

The aircraft was being operated by Airbus Military Corporation. No Australian personnel were on board the MRTT at the time of the incident.

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.

Project AIR 5402 will supply five MRTT aircraft to the Australian Defence Force. Design, development and testing of the prototype aircraft is being undertaken by Airbus Military at its facilities in Madrid, Spain.

Airbus Military and the relevant European military airworthiness authorities will have the lead responsibility for investigating the incident.

Australian Defence experts will participate in the investigation process.

43 Comments on “KC-30A for RAAF involved in in-flight incident, refueling boom lost

  1. This is not good news for the EADS tanker program if the cause of this incident is not F-16 Pilot error or KC-30 Boom Operator error.

    • Not really a good news but news about something real. The boom shown on this page won’t come off: http://www.unitedstatestanker.com/tour

      According to your name you may probably know how many booms US Air Force lost during evaluation and operation. Palomares came into my mind.

      Here is a better description of what might have happened:
      http://australianaviation.com.au/2011/01/boom-or-bust-raaf-kc-30-loses-boom/

      “Sources say preliminary reports suggest the boom’s probe snapped off near the F-16’s receptacle, causing the boom to spring up and strike the underside of the KC-30, possibly snapping off one of its two guiding fins and causing it to oscillate wildly until it snapped off at the pivot point.”

      I guess EADS got a 3D video of that incident.

      • There is a difference between what apparently happened to the RAAF KC-30, and the mid-air collision between the KC-135 and B-52 near Palomares, Spain. There the B-52 ran through the refueling envelope and hit the tanker, which then fell onto the bomber. The investigation found from the surviving bomber crew members there was never a contact made with the Boom. The Boom Operator did not respond in time for the underrun.

        There have been other inflight collisions between KC-135s and receivers. Also a few receivers landed with the Boom nozzel and sometimes part of the fuel tube still attached.

      • TopBoom
        what makes you think this was not an refuel envelope excursion on the side of the refuelee?

  2. Wow, that is not good news. But I don’t think it will affect the USAF contract and I’ll bet EADS still wins the contract. So any chance that Boeing pulls out of the USAF Tanker competition? The sooner this competition ends,and there are no protests, the sooner both companies can just move on.

    • Not a chance Boeing pulls out of USAF competition before a decision–why would it? It’s come this far, officials believe they have the better airplane, they want to deny Airbus the contract and they want to keep Airbus from establishing an assembly base in Mobile.

      • The USAF will be very interested in this incident. It very well could become a game changer for the KC-X program. The structual integrity of the EADS Boom is now in question. KC-135 Booms have lost a single ruddervator, but it did not cause the Boom to occilate to the point of overloading the structure and failure.

      • The USAF will be very interested in this incident. It very well could become a game changer for the KC-X program.

        On the contrary, this incident may have occured just outside the boom’s operational flight envelope and the incident would thus become a valuable “lessons learned” in the flight test programme.

        The structual integrity of the EADS Boom is now in question.

        I’m just curious, but how can you be so sure that the structural integrity of the boom is supposedly in question, when you haven’t even seen any photos of the damaged hardware in qustion?

      • TopBoom, How could this be a game changer for a price shootout that does not have any way to grade or value reliability or past performance?

  3. This incident appears to have happened at night, a poster on another forum commented that this type of incident is not unusual in service, especially at night, and usually down to incorrect closing speeed.
    I’m sure Airbus will be keen to point this out if it is the case.

    • No, that commentor is wrong. This is a very unusual event. Thank God no one was hurt and both airplanes recovered safely. Refueling the F-16, the KC-135 Boom is strong enough to force the receiver bask into position, although that is not an authorized procedure. The KC-135 Boom is also strong enough to tow a performance challanged fighter or fighter bomber, up to around 100,000 lbs weight with only an inspection due on the Boom later. Being at night would not have any effect on this type of incident, unless there was a TV camera failure on the KC-30. I still believe the Boom Operator needs to refuel from the tail of the tanker looking at the receiver through a window.

  4. That’s what happens during testing – it’d be worse if it happened after testing.
    What sounds most ominous is that apparently the whole boom was lost. I’d say the design should be fail-save, as in, there’s a failure point designed between the tanker and the tankee, and when the boom fails there, it doesn’t cause cascading failure.

  5. Isn’t the entire boom equipment “Buyer Furbished Equipment” in the KC-X competition?
    If a problem with the boom itself is identified, would EADS/Airbus pick up the main blame?
    And finally, aren’t such incidents a rare but still regular occurrence? I remember seeing two pictures (one an USN F-18 and another a GAF Tornado) having a refueling hose still attached to their receiver … after landing.

  6. Refueling Booms, from Boeing at least, are designed to operate in a degraded hydraulic, mechanical, or electrical mode. But even that is only down to the point where an electrical signal can be obtained manually or automaticly. Also, the Boom must be controlable throughout the refueling. I am sure EADS has some similar system back-ups.

  7. MHalblaub :
    Not really a good news but news about something real. The boom shown on this page won’t come off: http://www.unitedstatestanker.com/tour

    Maybe because it doesn’t exist yet?

    For Mr. Hamilton:
    The incident may cause delay, but I still wonder if maybe your conclusion of “likely delay” is premature, especially when EADS says otherwise.

    “We are flying in almost operational conditions,” the spokesman said. “We hope to determine the origin of the malfunction and proceed with deliveries. At this point we don’t see any delay in the first delivery next month,” he said.

    • “Likely delay” can mean anything from weeks to months. We don’t think the Australian regulatory authorities–who have held up delivery and certification because of the need to write boom manuals acceptable to them already–are going to be in any hurry to certify the boom until they have a clear understanding of the cause of this incident and the reasons for the boom’s separation from the aircraft.

      Just as the fire in 787 ZA002 caused a delay while the cause and the fix were undertaken, we believe this will be the case for the boom separation.

    • The KC-30 is equipped with cameras for the refueling operations. Hopefully they are recorded, that will help the investigation a lot.

      For EADS to say “We are flying in almost operational conditions,” is like saying you are a little bit pregnent. EADS is an airplane building company, they are not flying in operational conditions. They are flying in flight test conditions. They are not flying military training missions, Red Flag missions, operational deployments or redeployments, or combat missions, or any other type of military mission.

      The first (scheduled) delivery is to the RAAF. I am sure the RAAF would like to know what happened to one of their tankers that thy are paying for, but have not been delivered (and are 3 + years late) before they accept the first one. EADS may try to deliver it, but the customer, the RAAF, does not have to accept it. Perthaps EADS is now talking about delivering new tanker to the RAF? It doesn’t need a Boom.

      There will be another delivery delay to the RAAF.

      • it think you’re right in that there will be a delay associated with this mishap –

        but to add a little perspective: the other company is having quite a bit of trouble to get their tankers to the customer. And generally flight testing goes right to the edge of the flight envelope, beyond the operational flight envelope. I don’t know how the Aussies do things, but certification testing is usually as brutal as anything the operator should throw at it.

  8. Airbus tanker loses refueling boom ?
    Wonderful, hopefully this will make Airbus losing this annoying tanker competition.

    A bit off topic, but non the less worth to be posted:

    “Boeing to cut 1,100 workers on C-17 Globemaster program”

    Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said layoff notices would go out starting Friday to workers in Long Beach, California; St. Louis, Missouri; Mesa, Arizona; and Macon, Georgia. The 1,100 workers represent about 24 percent of the total employees on Boeing’s C-17 line.

    The company said last year it would cut its C-17 production rate to 10 a year from 15 due to a recent decrease in domestic orders.

    “This is a very difficult decision the company had to make with regards to the workforce,” Drelling said.

    Boeing’s C-17 has long been a lightning rod for controversy as the Pentagon pressures Congress to stop ordering the plane.

    Boeing has said, however, that the international market for the C-17 is strong and that it has received solid interest from India and Kuwait.

    “What we’re really trying to do is extend the life of the production line so we can capture additional international orders,” Drelling said.

    Shares of Boeing, a Dow component, were off 2 cents at $71.71 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Kyle Peterson

    Source:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE70J44420110120

    • Addendum:

      Is Boeing C-17 Globemaster already feeling the heat of rival Airbus A400M ?

      • Evin, you have got to be kidding. The A-400 is not the same class airlifter the C-17 is. It can only carry half the cargo weight half as far as the C-17, but at near the same price.

      • Near the same price?
        What was the lesson form the KC-X competition fuel burn costs? I also think you compare the prices for A400M with development costs to current price for C-17. Price for one C-17 was $330 million in 1995.

        The A400M can carry everything except a main battle tank.

  9. Yeah but for Boeing to lose a boom on the KC-767NG all someone has to do is hit the delete button on the Power Point program.

    • Not so fast there, partner. The KC-767NG Boom is an update to the very successful KC-10 Boom (which is also on the KDC-10). That means Boeing has 62 Booms of this basic design (although not updated) flying in combat missions, and all other military tanker missions around the world. EADS has a total of 6 Booms flying, 5 on A-330MRTTs and 1 on the test KC-310.

      Oops, me bad, today they only have 5 Booms flyable, and one in Davy Jones’ Locker.

      Boeing has some 10 times the number of these booms flying, compared to EADS. Of the 28 A-330MRTTs currently on order, only 14 will have Booms. Better make that 13.

  10. Instantly a dramatic amount of knowledge & expertise from apparent novices or self proclaimed experts, look chaps these things happen for heavens sake the type is still under test. Thankfully everybody walked away from the incident so we learn from it.

    We have to accept that unless this is a result of a dramatic design or structural failure the impact of this incident on any decision process is nil.

  11. KC135TopBoom :There have been other inflight collisions between KC-135s and receivers. Also a few receivers landed with the Boom nozzel and sometimes part of the fuel tube still attached.

    Yes these sorts of incidents between tankers and receivers have been occurring since the technique was first developed.

    Air to air refuelling is a controlled collision between two aircraft in flight.

    KC135TopBoom :
    No, that commentor is wrong. This is a very unusual event.

    Incidents like this are not that uncommon, they would happen on average twice a year. We also know the KC-767 has already had two refuelling incidents, one of them resulting in the boom still being extended upon landing and being destroyed, the other a damaged hose.

  12. on the third bullet on the first item. Why should Boeing withdraw from the Indian contest? If they win KC-X surely the USAF would be happy with the extended commonality. If they loose KC-X and the Indian order is not enough to economically keep the 767 line working, they can always pull out.

    • I guess Boeing can’t offer a competitive bid to India without the development costs for KC-767NG financed by USAF. On the other side Boeing could have offered the version still not delivered to Italy. So it makes me wonder.

      • Afair India had ordered the A330MRTT.
        After newfound friendship with the US
        this order was canceled on lack of money grounds. then they ordered a batch of C-17s …
        ( or did this happen in another reality 😉

  13. A sceptic could deduce from the Indian pull-out that Boeing can only finish the 767 tanker with the infusion of USAF funds.
    No USAF contract may see them walk away from the Italian 767 contract with penalty payments to the Italians lower than completion costs?

  14. While it is true no ITAF KC-767As have been delivered, all the JSDAF KC-767Js have been delivered. The RAAF KC-30A delivery delay is now approaching 3 years late, and will be pushed back again because of this incident. The KC-767Js are flying operational sorties now, and have flown in Red Flag. But because the Japanese Constitution does not allow offensive military missions, none of their tankers have flown combat missions, and most likely will not except in a defensive role.

    I don’t know why Boeing has now dropped out of the IAF tanker compitition, as they could have offered a version of the ITAF KC-767A to India (I have not read India’s RFP). This makes the IAF tanker program EADS’s to loose if they don’t something very big about adjusting the price. I think IAI now has a good chance to offer some version of the B-767 converted tanker to win this compitition. IAI has a lot of experience in converting airliners into tankers, and recently delivered their B-767MMTT to Columbia. They also converted all of Israel’s B-707 tankers. They ‘won’ the offer to sell the B-767MMTT to Poland, only to loose it when Poland decided they could not afford the tanker (as India did to EADS).

    For tanker contracts the Boom and air refueling equipment are not customer provided equipment, they are provided by the OEM. So this incident could be a big delay to EADS’s Boom equipped tankers, if a significant redsign and manufacture is needed. As far as I know (I am guessing here), EADS only has one spare Boom available, that is the test Boom on their test KC-310 aircraft, and I do not know if that protype Boom is up to the full RAAF requirement. I don’t think it is time, yet, to manufacture the Booms for the RSAF KC-30s, yet, so there would be none in the production pipeline.

  15. KC135TopBoom :
    As far as I know (I am guessing here), EADS only has one spare Boom available, that is the test Boom on their test KC-310 aircraft, and I do not know if that protype Boom is up to the full RAAF requirement. I don’t think it is time, yet, to manufacture the Booms for the RSAF KC-30s, yet, so there would be none in the production pipeline.

    I think were is another boom on the test rig. Also we can just guess about the possiblity to build a complete boom out of spare parts.

    • I would be rather surprised if there isn’t at least one complete set of reserve hardware around. ( independent of spares in store )

      Does “Partial loss” indicate that the boom was not taken off at the root ?

      Hmm, worker bee and not a wasp ;-?

  16. Partial loss could mean almost anything short of loosing the entire Boom. On the KC-135, the Boom is attached to the airplane with a trunion. The KC-30 could use a similar system, or something completely different, I just don’t know. In any case whatever parts of the Boom remained attached to the airplane would need to be removed, and the attachment fitting(s) would need some type of inspection, perhaps an eddy current test to assure the parts are still serviceable.

  17. KC135TopBoom :
    I just don’t know.

    The first accurate statement made on the thread. EADS made 7 complete booms for the RAAF contract, one for each of the aircraft on order, and 2 spares to allow the aircraft to continue to operate when the booms are in for overhaul.

  18. The aircraft involved in the incident (a/c #1) was due to enter a 6 month maintenance cycle next week anyway to have its FTI and other equipment removed and to be brought up to the latest spec, so the loss of the boom should not have an impact on the flight test campaign.

    • “The boom detached at the root of the structural mast,”

      is that equivalent to :
      near the articulation between fuselage and boom ?
      (or the other end where the flying vanes are situated? )

  19. That sounds like the entire Boom broke off at or near the trunnion attachment point. That is more than a partial break.

  20. Uwe :
    “The boom detached at the root of the structural mast,”

    (or the other end where the flying vanes are situated? )

    Yes,the mast is the structure that is connected to the aircraft with the ruddervators, the boom is extended from inside the mast to the receiver.

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