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The project aims to enhance the safety, reliability, and efficiency of in-flight refueling missions.

Airbus has completed the second round of testing of its fully autonomous in-flight refueling demonstrator called Auto’Mate. This technology is expected to play a crucial role in both the defense and civil aviation sectors.

This second flight test investigated the use of AI-based navigation sensors and enhanced algorithms for autonomous formation flight, with Airbus stating: “For the first time, we’ve tested the technologies for autonomous air-to-air refueling based on controlling and guiding multiple drones from the Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft.”

Airbus plans to use Auto’Mate to bring down operator workload, which would in turn reduce crew fatigue and human errors, crew training costs, and ensure more effective operations, as well as improve safety and reliability.

In-flight refueling procedures require painstaking coordination between an aerial tanker’s crew and the receiving aircraft’s pilot. The adoption of autonomous systems could enhance the effectiveness of operations, enabling fuel transfers in challenging low-visibility conditions, and could contribute to a reduction in training costs for flight crews.

Airbus claims that with the automation of in-flight refueling, an aerial tanker can assume command of a “receiver” aircraft from a considerable distance, guiding and controlling it autonomously into the correct position for fuel transfer.

Another significant use for the Auto’Mate technology is that it paves the way for in-flight refueling of uncrewed combat air vehicles, including drones.

According to Interesting Engineering, Airbus is concentrating on three key technological components when it comes to advancing autonomous in-flight refueling: utilizing various cameras with varying resolutions and fields of view, high-precision satellite global positioning, and LiDAR sensors- all integrated with AI algorithms.

Airbus’ plans to add autonomous refueling capabilities to its A330 MRTT aerial refueling aircraft will enhance its capabilities, helping to boost various military deployments and humanitarian operations.