The Royal Air Force’s Airbus A330 Voyager will become the fourth non-US aerial refuelling tanker to be certified to fill up the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II following recent tests with an F-35B at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
The Voyager, a modified A330-200 airliner designated KC-30, has already performed five of 20 planned test flights with the final one expected by mid-June to achieve F-35 tanking certification.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s own version of the Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), the KC-30A, completed its F-35A refuelling trials at Edwards AFB in California in late 2015.
An Italian Air Force KC-767A was the first tanker not owned and operated by the US military to receive F-35 certification. It went on to support the first transatlantic crossing of the Lightning II in February.
A Dutch KDC-10 completed its first F-35 refuelling on March 31 and is now helping early-model Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35s fly home for a demonstration tour to drum up support, with 37 fighter jets on order.
F-35 Intergraded Test Force
With a maximum fuel capacity of 111t, the Voyager will be a critical asset for future RAF and Royal Navy short takeoff vertical landing F-35B operations from RAF Marham. Refuelling certification is also a necessary step on the path to the 617 Sqn declaring F-35 initial operational capability in 2018.
The UK has 19 personnel assigned to the Lightning II development team at NAS Patuxent River and most will participate in the third and final F-35B sea trial aboard a Marine Corps Wasp-class amphibious assault ship later this year, according to the F-35 Joint Programme Office. The UK will begin its own ship integration trials aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.
By 2020, 10 F-35Bs will be based at RAF Marham, 15 F-35As at RAAF Williamtown in Australia, 16 in Italy and 10 in the Netherlands, according to Lockheed charts. The UK’s nine Voyager aircraft are assigned to RAF Brize Norton.
Pictures via the US Defense Department