For the first time, an IL-78 refueller aircraft of the Indian Air Force on Thursday carried out air-to-air refuelling of the Embraer transport aircraft that has the indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system Netra mounted on it.
“A mere 10-minute in-flight refuelling can generate four more hours of flight. The achievement has given a tremendous boost to the IAF’s operational capability,” the IAF said in a statement.
The AEW&C — also called eye-in-the-sky — is capable of long-range surveillance and a force multiplier. Air-to-air refuelling allows the aircraft to stay airborne much beyond their limits, allowing better exploitation of capabilities.
“The ‘Probe and Drogue’ air-to-air refuelling method, practised by IAF pilots, requires exceptional flying skills as the receiving aircraft has to accurately insert the receptacle probe into the basket-shaped drogue trailing the tanker aircraft, the statement said.
During air-to-air refuelling, both aircraft must maintain accurate flying parameters. The IAF is one of the few air forces in the world to operate mid-air refuellers. It now operates six Russian IL-78 refuellers and has been trying to buy six more.
The IAF inducted the Netra, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), in February this year. Three systems are being built and will be based at Bhatinda, facing the western border. Netra gives a 240-degree coverage of airspace.