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PICTURE: UK's Voyager nears release to service milestone

The UK Royal Air Force is moving towards granting the release to service approval for its first Airbus A330-based Voyager tanker/transport, with the aircraft having arrived at its Brize Norton air transport hub in Oxfordshire, southern England.

The first of an eventual 14 modified A330-200s to be introduced as replacements for the RAF's Lockheed TriStars and Vickers VC10s arrived at Brize Norton on 21 December.

Fitted with Cobham Mission Equipment 905E hose-and-drogue refuelling pods beneath its wing, it is being used to support pre-flight training activities inside AirTanker's two-aircraft hangar at the site.


© Michael Buckle

The UK's first Voyager arrived at RAF Brize Norton in late December

AirTanker had hoped to have its first aircraft on the ramp in early November 2011, but sources said the company is still expected to begin providing conversion training for the first RAF personnel from next month, as planned. This will follow a process to transfer the aircraft from the Spanish to the UK civil aircraft register and on to the latter's military register as ZZ331, plus the receipt of required documentation from the UK Civil Aviation Authority and RAF, the sources added.

Meanwhile, flight-test activities involving another Voyager are continuing in Spain, with the three-point tanker having this month performed trials involving Eurofighter combat aircraft. The work by Airbus Military builds on testing conducted in the UK last year using the same aircraft with a Panavia Tornado GR4.

The next two A330s to be modified under the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme are in conversion at Cobham Aviation Services' Bournemouth airport facilities in Dorset, southern England.

To initially be used to support crew conversion training and air transport tasks, the Voyager fleet should achieve full operational capability in the air-to-air refuelling role during 2014. The aircraft will also be used to support types including the RAF's Lockheed Martin C-130Js and future Airbus Military A400Ms.

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