French AF starts Phénix tanker trials
The French AF has kicked off a test campaign with its first A330 Phénix Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). It hopes to achieve initial operational capability within one year.
Fifty-five years after the arrival of the French Air Force's first Boeing C135 tanker aircraft, the A330 Phénix multirole tanker transport (MRTT) took off from Istres air base on 12th October on its first flight after having officially joined the Air Force.
Piloted by a crew of the MRTT team of the Military Aviation Expertise Center (CEAM), the new tanker aircraft made a first refueling trial flight with the aircraft of the 2/2 "Côte-d'Or" Calibration Squadron.
The flight marks the beginning of the experimental and test campaign with the goal of achieving initial operational capability within a year. Integrated into the 31st EARTS (strategic air refueling squadron), the trial team will perform multiple test flights to qualify the aircraft for all of its future missions.
The first phase will be dedicated to in-flight refuelling missions of the various French AF aircraft and those of allies, in multiple configurations, by day or night and in all weather conditions.
Once the refuelling capabilities have been validated, the trials will be expanded to include strategic cargo and personnel transport and medical evacuation. The Phénix will ultimately replace the French AF fleet of strategic aircraft (C135, A310 and A340) which are currently used for long-range missions.
Operated by the strategic air forces, the fleet of 12 aircraft (15 after 2025) will be stationed at the 125 Istres air base, whose role as the force's "logistics hub" will be increased tenfold.
Given that the A330 Phénix is one and a half times larger than the C135, the entire infrastructure of Air Base 125 has had to be reviewed. A first maintenance hangar, a parking lot and new air traffic routes have been created at the air base.
This site, the largest currently in terms of investments for the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, will accommodate 12 aircraft by 2023. In addition to two other maintenance hangars, Istres will have a new terminal for personnel and logistics transport missions which are currently carried out by the 1/60 "Estérel" transport squadron from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport.
The first French AF Phénix made its maiden flight in September 2017.