The UK Royal Air Force has made its first use of a third-party in-flight refuelling capability, employing two Omega Tanker-operated aircraft to support a transatlantic deployment involving nine of its Panavia Tornado GR4s.

Flown in support of 12 and 31 Sqn Tornados transiting from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and Marham in Norfolk to participate in last month's exercise Torpedo Focus at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, the "trails" involved an Omega-owned Boeing 707 and the company's lone McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker (below).

KDC-10 Omega 
© Omega Tanker

Each Tornado received a total of 8,170kg (18,000lb) of fuel through two contacts during the 3,700km (2,000nm) transit, says Omega, while the KDC-10 was also used to transport RAF ground crew and support equipment.

The fighters achieved clearance to operate with the Omega aircraft at altitudes between 22,000ft (6,700m) and 24,000ft and at speeds ranging from 270kt (500km/h) to 330kt.

The US Navy has since 2000 contracted some tanker access from Irish-based Omega Air's wholly owned US subsidiary Omega Air Refueling Services using two KC-707s (one pictured below from GR4 cockpit), with the KDC-10 also having been incorporated into the agreement since March 2008.

 KC-707 Omega
© Omega Tanker

The RAF says the recent sorties were performed under a reciprocal agreement with the USN, which makes frequent operational use of its Lockheed TriStar and Vickers VC10 tankers. "It was not a case of there being a lack of available aircraft," it notes.

Omega owns a further 19 ex-Japan Airlines DC-10s and several formerly Italian air force-operated KC-707s, which it could convert for tanker use given sufficient demand from the USN, the US Air Force and potentially any UK need to obtain additional tanker services pending the delivery of its Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) fleet of 14 modified Airbus A330-200s.

The UK Ministry of Defence in late March signed a delayed private finance initiative deal with the EADS UK-led AirTanker consortium for the FSTA system.

The company on 13 June broke ground on a new two-bay hangar for the type at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, with first aircraft delivery expected during 2011. Its current planned out-of-service date for the VC10 is March 2013.


Source: Flight International