VC10 retirement speeds RAF airlift transition

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The UK Royal Air Force kicked off a trio of air transport type retirements on 20 September, with its last two Vickers VC10 tankers completing their final operational sorties.

K3-model tankers ZA147 and ZA150 performed a more than 4h flight from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, including 101 Sqn providing air-to-air refuelling support for Eurofighter Typhoons and Panavia Tornado GR4s (below) over the North Sea.

 

Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

Final repositioning flights with the pair saw ZA150 (pictured below, following 20 September sortie) flown to Dunsfold in Surrey on 24 September, while ZA147 is due to arrive at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire the following day.

 

Craig Hoyle/Flightglobal

Originally operated as commercial airliners by East African Airways, the aircraft’s removal from use brings to an end a 47-year RAF history of operating the Rolls-Royce Conway-engined type, latterly as the world’s only user.

The VC10 retirement will be swiftly followed by the removal from use of the RAF’s remaining four Lockheed Martin C-130K tactical transports, by 30 October. Also based at Brize Norton, the assets are currently being flown within the UK only, with their use in Afghanistan having concluded earlier this year.

A short-term gap caused by the C-130K’s retirement will be filled once the RAF starts taking delivery of 22 A400Ms from Airbus Military. The company is on schedule to hand over its first UK example in September 2014, says Air Cdre David Lee, the RAF’s Air Mobility Force commander. Another 24 Hercules are already in use, in the C-130J configuration, while the service also has eight Boeing C-17 strategic transports.

Next March should also see the retirement of the RAF’s aged Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports, although Lee says the service could consider an extension of up to six months to this schedule. This would act as a contingency measure as the service and industry partner AirTanker work towards achieving full operational capability with its replacement Airbus A330-based Voyagers in May 2014.

Six Voyagers are currently in use, including one air transport example which will remain on the UK civil aircraft register. The RAF’s 10 and 101 squadrons, plus AirTanker crews, will support a core fleet of nine of the aircraft by the second quarter of next year.