RAF Voyager launches tanker operations with Tornado

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A UK Royal Air Force crew has flown the first air-to-air refuelling (AAR) training flight with the service's new A330 Voyager tanker/transport, just four months before its last Vickers VC10s are due to be retired.

Performed from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on 20 May in support of Panavia Tornado GR4s, the milestone followed the Ministry of Defence's approval of release to service for tanker operations. This was granted to Voyager fleet provider AirTanker Services on 16 May.

Simulator-based training had previously been completed at Brize Norton for the first crews from the RAF's 10 Sqn to perform the AAR task.

"We are delighted to have achieved a significant milestone against the programme," says AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell. "It represents another important step towards full service capability." This is due to be declared by April 2014, with the availability of a core fleet of nine Voyagers.

Release to service approval to also support the RAF's Eurofighter Typhoons is expected "later this summer," AirTanker says.

Four Voyagers have arrived at Brize Norton so far. A fifth is due to follow before the end of May, and a sixth "before the mid-point of the year".

Previously used in an air transport-only role, the fleet has so far carried over 50,000 passengers and more than 3,000t of cargo, the company says.

The A330-based type is progressively replacing the RAF's remaining VC10s and Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports.