The UK's fourth Airbus A330 Voyager touched down at the Royal Air Force's Brize Norton air base in Oxfordshire on 26 April, with the tanker/transport the first of only two to have undergone conversion in the UK.
Placed on the military register as ZZ332, the Rolls-Royce Trent 772B-60-powered aircraft is one of seven Voyagers to be handed over suitable for use as a three-point tanker: a configuration which includes under-wing hose and drogue refuelling pods and a fuselage refuelling unit. It was adapted for the RAF by Cobham Aviation Services in Bournemouth, Dorset.
"Spring and summer this year represent a critical period in the build-up of our operation, with Voyager 5 expected within a month and Voyager 6 shortly after," says AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell. A core fleet of nine aircraft should be available by May 2014, according to the planned schedule for the type to achieve full in-service status. Blundell says the programme is "continuing to make good progress against this target."
The original plan for the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft programme was for Cobham to convert 12 of the programme's total 14 Voyagers. This was abandoned in mid-2012, due to a longer process for modifying the first two examples in Bournemouth than the expected 12 months each. The UK's remaining aircraft will instead be modified at Airbus Military's Getafe site near Madrid, Spain.
Meanwhile, Blundell says AirTanker expects to receive release to service approval "imminently" from the Ministry of Defence to begin performing air-to-air refuelling training activities for the RAF with the Voyager. The type is operated by the service's 10 Sqn, and also by civilian sponsored reservist crews in the air transport role.