The UK Royal Air Force is close to securing full release to service (RTS) clearance for its Airbus A330 Voyagers to provide in-flight refuelling for its Eurofighter Typhoons, with the combination already working together under a temporary exemption.
Although the full RTS milestone has yet to be achieved, Wg Cdr Rich Wells, officer commanding the RAF's Typhoon-equipped 11 Sqn, says: "The whole squadron has been through tanking now." Based at Coningsby in Lincolnshire and one of four UK frontline units flying the Typhoon from the base and RAF Leuchars in Scotland, its duties include flying quick reaction alert sorties, which ordinarily rely on air-to-air refuelling support.
Six Voyagers have been delivered so far under the Ministry of Defence's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme with the AirTanker consortium. Full capability with the new type will be declared in May 2014, with the delivery of a ninth example, and a total of 14 will be in use by the end of 2015.
Now flown by the RAF's 10 Sqn from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, the UK's Voyagers are gradually assuming the tanker role held by the RAF's Vickers VC10s, the last of which will be retired by the end of September, and its Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports, which will leave use in March 2014.
10 Sqn's newest aircraft - three-point tanker ZZ333 - was on static display at the 20-21 July Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire.
AirTanker in mid-May received RTS clearance for the Voyager to deliver in-flight refuelling services for the RAF's fleet of Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft. Its next focus will be on flying clearance tests to also refuel widebody aircraft using the centreline hose refuelling unit to be installed in roughly half of the fleet, says AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell.