The UK Royal Air Force's new Voyager tanker/transport has made its first flight in operational service, moving the Airbus A330-based type a step closer to replacing the force's aged Lockheed TriStars and Vickers VC10s.
Conducted from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on 8 April, the first sortie was intended "to allow the AirTanker crew to familiarise themselves with the aircraft and achieve the first part of the Voyager crew training schedule," says the industrial consortium behind the deal.
© AirTanker Services
AirTanker Services will eventually deliver 14 of the aircraft under a 24-year private finance initiative deal, and also provide instructors and sponsored reservists to support RAF personnel in operating and maintaining the type. The core RAF fleet of nine aircraft will be delivered by May 2014, with AirTanker planning to have all 14 in use by 2016.
Delivered to Brize Norton in December 2011, the Airbus Military-modified Voyager involved in the first flight is equipped with Cobham 905E under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods. The aircraft was used to support ground crew training and pre-flight familiarisation activities while awaiting the completion of certification and release-to-service paperwork early this year.
"The next 12 months will see the Voyager team conduct planned procedural activities ensuring the aircraft continues through its intensive programme to be ready for future operational environments," AirTanker says. This will include training in both the air transport and air-to-air refuelling missions.
Airbus Military is continuing to conduct flight tests for the UK using another Voyager already modified at its Getafe site near Madrid, Spain. The programme's next two aircraft are being modified for the tanker role by Cobham Aviation Services in Bournemouth, Dorset.