Airbus, a renowned aircraft manufacturer, has introduced a groundbreaking technology called Auto’Mate that aims to revolutionize the process of aerial refueling. Developed in collaboration between Airbus Defense and Space and Airbus UpNext, their innovation subsidiary, this cutting-edge system has the potential to transform both defense and civil aviation sectors. The introduction of Auto’Mate signifies a significant milestone in military force projection capabilities.
Traditionally, in-flight refueling required precise coordination between the crew of an aerial tanker and the pilot of the receiving aircraft. However, with the integration of autonomous technologies, this process can now be streamlined, offering improved safety, reliability, and efficiency. Auto’Mate eliminates the need for human intervention during refueling by allowing an aerial tanker to assume control of a receiver aircraft from a distance of several kilometers. This groundbreaking technology utilizes high-precision cameras, LiDAR sensors, advanced AI algorithms, and sophisticated communication networks to guide and control the receiver aircraft into the optimal position for fuel transfer.
One of the key advantages of Auto’Mate is its ability to conduct refueling operations even in low visibility conditions, which previously posed challenges for human operators. This remarkable capability enhances operational effectiveness and opens up new possibilities for fuel transfer in adverse weather scenarios. Moreover, Auto’Mate enables the refueling of non-piloted combat air vehicles, such as drones, providing unprecedented flexibility and expanding the range of potential applications. This breakthrough technology can also be leveraged in remote carriers and “loyal wingman” operations, crucial components of Europe’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS).
The development of Auto’Mate is based on the integration of three primary technological components. These include integrated cameras with varying resolutions and fields of view, high-precision satellite global positioning, LiDAR sensors for accurate distance measurement, advanced intra-flight communication networks, and cooperative control and collision avoidance algorithms. The seamless synergy among these elements ensures precise and safe fuel transfer between aerial tankers and receiving aircraft.
Airbus’s extensive experience in the domain of aerial tankers has served as a strong foundation for the development of Auto’Mate. Their previous achievements include the A310 MRTT, which entered service in 2004, and the new-generation A330 MRTT. Airbus has consistently led advancements in this sector, pioneering the use of fly-by-wire control for refueling probes and developing high-definition 2D/3D digital systems to enhance visibility during the refueling process.
The success of Airbus’s aerial tanker solutions is evident in the 60 A330 MRTTs ordered by various countries, including Australia, France, NATO, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. These aircraft have accumulated thousands of flight hours, providing invaluable support for military deployments and humanitarian operations worldwide.
The integration of Auto’Mate technology marks a significant leap forward in aerial refueling capabilities. By automating various processes, it enhances safety, reliability, and efficiency while reducing the burden on flight crews and lowering training costs. Moreover, this breakthrough technology sets the stage for future advancements, including the potential for autonomous aerial tankers without a crew on board. Airbus’s unwavering commitment to innovation and their unmatched expertise in aerial tankers position the company at the forefront of aviation advancements, enabling them to take the next step in aerial refueling with Auto’Mate.