RAF's Voyager tanker to start flight tests with Tornado

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The Royal Air Force's A330-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) should receive its military certification in June, according to Airbus Military, with the first two examples having undergone successful initial tests in the UK.

Due to enter RAF service in November as the Voyager, the UK's fleet of modified A330-200s will eventually be 14-strong and is already being assessed in two configurations.

Aircraft two arrived at the Ministry of Defence/Qinetiq Boscombe Down test site in Wiltshire in mid-April, and has participated in trials on its communications and defensive aids subsystem equipment. The aircraft is one of seven Voyagers that will be delivered in a two-point tanker configuration with under-wing Cobham 905E hose and drogue refuelling pods.

Also equipped with a fuselage refuelling unit, the programme's first A330 performed ground trials with a Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft at Boscombe Down over a roughly two-week period from early May before returning to Airbus Military's Getafe site near Madrid. It is due to arrive back in the UK on 1 June, before starting three or four weeks of flight testing with a GR4.

"The ground tests have been successful with the pods and the [fuselage refuelling unit], and we are now preparing the flight cards," said Antonio Caramazana, Airbus Military's vice-president derivative programmes. "The programme is going to schedule."

Airbus Military converted the UK's first two FSTA platforms, which Caramazana said had performed a combined 63 flights in tanker guise by 18 May. Work on the remaining 12 will start at Cobham Aviation Services' Bournemouth airport site in September 2011.

The UK's new tanker/transport is due to be formally named the Voyager during a pre-show event for the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, on 15 July. It is likely to be on display alongside Airbus Military's A400M, which the RAF has named "Atlas".