One of the UK Royal Air Force's future fleet of Airbus Military A330 tanker/transports is making the type's public debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo, where the aircraft has been officially named the Voyager.
The second of two A330s to have been modified at Airbus Military's Getafe site near Madrid, the aircraft touched down at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 15 July, having been flown from the Ministry of Defence's Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire. Configured as a three-point tanker with under-wing hose-and-drogue refuelling pods and a centreline hose drum unit, it is currently involved in flight test activities including transferring fuel to a Panavia Tornado GR4.
"Flight testing has gone incredibly well," said AirTanker managing director Dave Mitchard. The programme's two current aircraft have been flown roughly 100 times since being modified for the tanker role, with the one visiting RIAT having logged around 70 of this total.
AirTanker is due to deliver the RAF's first Voyager at its Brize Norton air transport hub in Oxfordshire on 31 October, with the aircraft currently in Getafe having its flight test instrumentation removed before its seats will be installed.
To enter use via the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme, the Voyager fleet will eventually total 14 modified A330s. Twelve of these will be converted by Cobham Aviation Services at its Bournemouth airport facilities in Dorset, with the first A330 due to arrive at the site in September.
“This magnificent aircraft is the future for the RAF’s air-to-air refuelling and passenger transport capability for the coming decades," said defence secretary Dr Liam Fox during the naming ceremony. “Voyager, together with the [Boeing] C-17, [Lockheed Martin] C-130J and the [Airbus Military] A400M transport will provide the RAF with a truly world class fleet of aircraft, underpinning the global reach that is vital to our operations.”
Airbus Military managing director Domingo Ureña described the RAF as a "referring customer" for the company's A330 multi-role tanker/transport, the first two of which have already been delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force. "From day one you will be using this aircraft operationally in challenging conditions," he said. The company is currently involved in export campaigns to offer the system to potential buyers including the Indian air force.
A delegation of senior French air force officers also attended the event at RIAT. The service plans to field a new fleet of A330-based tankers from later this decade.