PICTURE: UK's Voyager tanker starts flight trials with Tornado

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The UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme has moved a step closer to its planned delivery of an operational capability from early November, with flight trials having been conducted using an A330 "Voyager" and a Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4.

"The two aircraft performed a series of dry contacts, by day and night, in late June/early July during a programme to formally qualify the Tornado to refuel from the FSTA in operational service," Airbus Military said. "Wet contacts will commence shortly."

Supported by Qinetiq, the latest round of trials built on previous ground-based activities with a Tornado at the Ministry of Defence's Boscombe Down test site in Wiltshire.

 
© Airbus Military/Qinetiq

Airbus Military said the recent flights used the Voyager's Cobham 905E underwing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods within a flight envelope from 10,000ft (3,050m) to 30,000ft and at speeds ranging from 250kt (462km/h) to 325kt.

The FSTA programme will deliver 14 A330-200-based tanker/transports via a private finance initiative deal with the AirTanker consortium. The first aircraft is due to enter service at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on 1 November, with the type to fully replace the service's Lockheed TriStars and Vickers VC10s by 2013.