The wings for the first of the UK Royal Air Force's 14 Airbus A330-200-based Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) were flown by Beluga from Airbus's Broughton, UK plant to Bremen in Germany on 25 February, signalling an important milestone in the project.
The Broughton-built wings will next undergo final equipping, including the installation of high-lift devices, before being delivered to Airbus's final assembly line in Toulouse, France.
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AirTanker, the EADS UK-led consortium that is supplying the Rolls-Royce Trent 700-powered A330s to the RAF under a private finance initiative deal worth £13 billion ($18.3 billion), says that following assembly the first aircraft is due to be delivered to EADS's Getafe plant near Madrid "this summer" for the installation of its tanking equipment.
Delivery to the RAF is due in "September or October" next year, with service entry in 2011. The fleet will operate from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The service's first two aircraft will be modified in Getafe, with work on the remainder to be undertaken by AirTanker partner Cobham in Bournemouth, Dorset.
The new FSTA fleet will replace the RAF's Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tanker/transports. According to Wg Cdr Steve Chadwick, commanding officer of TriStar-equipped 216 Sqn, the aircraft will be flown by 10 and 101 squadrons (the latter of which currently operate VC10s), with 216 Sqn to serve as an operational evaluation unit for the type.
Source: Flight International