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Wed, Mar 05, 2008

EADS Confirms First Refueling Test For New Boom

System Intended For KC-45A Passes Gas For First Time

It was a good way for EADS to follow up last week's somewhat surprising announcement of its win for the US Air Force's KC-X tanker contract. On Friday, the European aerospace consortium told Reuters it had carried out the first successful test of the upcoming KC-45A's refueling boom.

Completion of the boom test -- which marked the first time the new, fly-by-wire hardware had transferred fuel to another aircraft in flight -- is the latest milestone in the company's admittedly fast-tracked development program for the new aircraft. Less than two months ago, EADS deployed the all-digital FRL 905E-series refueling pods, which will be mounted on the wings of the new tanker, for the first time.

Friday's test involved a rear-mounted Air Refueling Boom System fitted to an Airbus A300 development aircraft, which passed fuel to an F-16 in service with the Portuguese Air Force.

As ANN reported, Northrop/EADS won the first phase of the Air Force KC-X tanker bid on February 29, over a competing bid from American planemaker Boeing. The news surprised many analysts and lawmakers, who had expected Boeing's KC-767 to walk away with the victory... but the Air Force says it chose the better aircraft.

The KC-45A is a derivative of the Airbus A330 commercial airliner, and benefits from that airframe's newer design compared with the Boeing plane. The A330 is also a much larger aircraft, and offers more room for tankered fuel, and/or passengers and cargo.

Under its agreement with Northrop, EADS will supply green A330 airframes from its plants in Europe. Those planes will be flown to a new facility in Mobile, AL to be outfitted with the EADS refueling equipment, and other military-spec gear to be supplied by Northrop.

That new facility will also host final completion tasks for the upcoming Airbus A330-200 Freighter, with which the KC-45A shares much of its basic frame.

Meanwhile, officials at Boeing are considering whether to mount a legal challenge to dispute the Air Force's choice. USAF officials will meet with Boeing executives later this week to present their case for the selection.

Several US unions have also protested the choice, saying the Air Force chose to provide Europeans with jobs over their US counterparts. Ironically, a French union has criticized the decision for almost the very same reason -- taking EADS to task for its choice to outsource final assembly duties to workers in Alabama. Those workers are calling for a day of protest March 9, outside an Airbus plant in Saint-Nazaire, France.

FMI: www.eads.com, www.af.mil

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