The UK's first Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) has arrived at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire at the start of its programme of in-country testing, as the Ministry of Defence has announced that the type will be named the Voyager in Royal Air Force service.
The modified Airbus A330-200 landed at the Ministry of Defence/Qinetiq test centre on 18 April, having been flown from Airbus Military's Getafe site near Madrid. It is one of two examples to have been converted so far for the RAF under the 14-aircraft FSTA programme with the AirTanker consortium.
Both images © Qinetiq
"Initially specialised ground-testing will take place, leading to airborne testing through the summer, involving both aircraft, to qualify the receiver aircraft in-service with the RAF," Airbus Military says. AirTanker will deliver the first operational example to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire in late 2011.
"On the ground and in the air, the aircraft will be tested in the refuelling role, with [Panavia] Tornado, [Boeing E-3D] Sentry, [Eurofighter] Typhoon and [Lockheed Martin C-130] Hercules aircraft," the MoD says. This process will continue into next year, it adds.
“The initial testing phase [in Spain] has gone very well and the aircraft is proving to be a reliable, mature and very effective platform," says AirTanker chief executive Phill Blundell.
"We look forward to seeing it enter service later this year and beginning the transformation of the RAF's tanker, transport and aero-medical evacuation capabilities," says Antonio Caramazana, head of Airbus Military derivatives.
© Airbus Military
The first FSTA aircraft was flown to the UK from Airbus Military's Getafe site near Madrid
The UK's remaining 12 aircraft will be modified by Cobham at its Bournemouth airport site in Dorset, with the entire fleet scheduled to be in use by mid-2016.
Meanwhile, industry preparations for the introduction of the A330 tanker and the delayed A400M transport were advanced early this month, with the establishment of a national entity called Airbus Military UK. This is headed by Richard Thompson, Airbus Military's former head of customer services.
How the A330 sizes up to some of the RAF's current air transport types
Source: Flight International