The Royal Air Force’s tanker/transport fleet transition took another big step earlier this week, when the last operational sorties were performed with its Lockheed L-1011 TriStars. These included providing tanker support for a detachment of Eurofighter Typhoons returning from an exercise commitment in the USA, and supporting training activities involving the same type and the Tornado GR4 over the North Sea.
On 25 March, the four operational aircraft which had remained at the service’s Brize Norton base were flown to Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire. They’ll all be going for scrap, unless talks with a couple of potential buyers turn into agreed sales for the up to six aircraft in a suitable condition to fly again (including ZD951, in this Crown Copyright image). Contrary to earlier reports, none of the fleet have already been sold.
I was lucky enough to be onboard ZD950 during the final operational mission on 24 March, with the aircraft having accompanied the tanker-tasked ZD948. That was thanks to the RAF’s 216 Sqn, which has bowed out – probably forever – following a distinguished history spanning some 96 years.
For the last 30 of those, the unit operated the ex-British Airways/Pan Am fleet, which were nicknamed either “Tommy” or “Timmy”, depending on whether they were flying freight or passenger tasks. The latter name was used more widely, however, especially while the type supported the “airbridge” between Brize Norton and Afghanistan, taking roughly 250,000 passengers into and out of the theatre of operations.
As you’d expect of an old aircraft, the TriStar broke down sometimes, but it was a workhorse for the service right to the end. And certainly some out there will be sad to see it go.
The TriStar retirement followed that of the RAF’s Vickers VC10s last September, and leaves the A330 Voyager as now providing all air-to-air refuelling services for the service, both around the UK and from the Falkland Islands.