Just over two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to hitch a ride on the last ever operational sortie flown by the RAF’s veteran Vickers VC10s; a type which had first entered use with the service in 1966.
My report on the farewell outing for the UK’s self-styled “Queen of the Skies” with 101 Sqn just hit the shelves in the new issue of Flight International, and is also now available to registered users of our FG Club. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for free access by clicking here.
The 20 September event marks the start of a rush of retirements, with the RAF’s last four K-model Hercules to leave use by the end of this month, and its six Lockheed TriStars to follow by March 2014, or potentially up to six months beyond that date. The tanker/transport removals are covered by a growing fleet of Airbus A330-based Voyagers (five tankers and one passenger example now operational), but the C-130K’s demise will lead to a gap until the Airbus Military A400M enters useful service. The UK’s first “Atlas” should arrive at RAF Brize Norton only in September next year.
It’s not all plain flying with the VC10/TriStar replacement deal, though, as some are questioning whether it will be viable to permanently deploy a Voyager to the Falkland Islands to support Eurofighter Typhoons providing air defence cover there. “The ultimate in using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut,” quips one former VC10 pilot.
Having first flown on an RAF VC10 as a kid in the late 1970s, it was sad to see such an iconic jet flown into retirement, but modernising this key capability was long overdue.