The Royal Air Force's Vickers VC10 tanker squadron is preparing for the final rundown of its fleet as it works towards a planned March 2013 retirement of the 1960s transport design.
RAF Brize Norton-based 101 Sqn currently operates eight VC10 tankers, a mix of C1Ks and K3/K4s. Speaking at a VC10 50th anniversary gathering at the type's birthplace in Brooklands, near Weybridge, Surrey on 29 June to mark five decades since its first flight, 101 Sqn commanding officer Wg Cdr Kevin Brookes said the fleet is due to be gradually whittled down over the next nine months. "My out of service date at the moment is stated as 31 March next year," he said.
"Another C1K retired on 2 July, so I currently have three C1Ks, four K3s and one K4," said Brookes. "That means I have four flying aircraft day-to-day. One of them - the K4 - is in the Falkands with 1312 Flight supporting the QRA [quick reaction alert] Typhoons there; one sits on a "Q state" at Brize Norton in support of the QRA Typhoons at RAF Coningsby and Leuchars; and one is based in Oman [supporting Operation Herrick in Afghanistan]. So we have the single VC10 in the UK on which 101 Sqn crews keep currency, or we send it away on trails to move fast jets around."
When Typhoons are deployed to RAF Northolt in July and August as part of the air defence during the London 2012 Olympics, a VC10 will be based at Brize Norton to support them.
Brookes explains that the different marks of VC10 tanker affect how the squadron is able to perform air-to-air refuelling, and this is also driving the timing of their phase-out. The C1Ks, which are ex-RAF transport VC10s that were converted to tankers, can carry 70t of fuel but are only equipped with wing-pod hoses.
The K3s, which were converted from ex-airline Super VC10 airframes, are dubbed "super tankers" as they have maindeck fuel tanks with a capacity of 10t, boosting overall capacity to 82t. These, like the single K4 (also a converted ex-airline Super VC10), also have a centreline hose that allows them to refuel aircraft too large to tank off the wing-pod hoses, such as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules or another VC10. The K4 however, lacks the main-deck fuel tanks.
"In September I drop down to my core fleet of six aircraft: the K3s - as they are the super tankers - the K4 down in the Falklands and the C1Ks make up the numbers at the end as they will be retiring before the more capable tankers," said Brookes.
However, he hinted that these plans could be subject to change: "I was supposed to have six VC10s last year. There are changes and discussions all the time about when these aircraft retire - but that's the basic plan at the moment."
101 Sqn's oldest VC10 is C1K XR808, which was delivered in July 1966 and as of mid-June, had accumulated 43,655h and 12,255 full-stop landings. This aircraft is due to be flown to RAF Cosford for preservation at the RAF Museum there.
The RAF introduced the VC10 in the transport role in 1966 with 10 Sqn at Brize Norton, and 101 Sqn was reformed as an air-to-air refueling squadron with VC10 tankers at the same base in 1984.