An Airbus A330 that will become the first of a new fleet of multi-role tanker aircraft has taken to the skies for the very first time in Toulouse, France.
The Airbus A330-200, which will replace the RAF's aging TriStar and VC-10 aircraft, completed its three-hour maiden test flight on schedule last Thursday, 4 June 2009.
As the aircraft was put through a series of manoeuvres covering the whole flight envelope, engineers conducted various compliance tests on the engines and onboard systems.
The Ministry of Defence ordered 14 of the A330-200-based tanker aircraft under a £13bn PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal with AirTanker Ltd in March 2008.
While owned and supported by AirTanker, the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) will fly in RAF 'colours' and undertake RAF air-to-air and passenger air transport tasks. The contract allows AirTanker to make spare aircraft available for commercial use when not required for military duties.
In an air-to-air refuelling role, the new tankers will have the ability to offload 60 tonnes of fuel 1,000 miles (1,609km) from base, and remain on station for two hours.
The fuel necessary for refuelling operations, as well as for the A300 itself, will be carried in the same tanks as fitted to the standard Airbus A330 airliner leaving the cabin free for transporting up to 290 personnel, and the cargo holds free to carry equipment and supplies up to a maximum total payload of 44 tonnes.
The FSTA fleet will customarily carry a minimum of 80 tonnes (100,000 litres) of aviation fuel per aircraft. The fuel dispensing rate from the aircraft is approximately 5,000 litres per minute or about 80 litres per second. The wing pods alone refuel twice as fast as those in a Formula One pit stop.
The Airbus A330 represents a significant advance in capability over its predecessors and has won major international tanker procurement contracts including the Australian, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabian Air Forces. It will provide the RAF with improved reliability, performance and economy with around twice the refuelling capability of the current VC-10s.
RAF crews will operate the aircraft on military duties, together with some sponsored reservists employed by the contractor. The 27-year contract covers all aspects of the operation, including the provision of new infrastructure currently being constructed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, the fleet's main operating base.
Image 1: (Larger size) - Airbus A330-200 MSN1033 takes off for the first time in Toulouse. [Picture: Airbus SAS]
Image 2: (Larger size) - The refuelling pods will be fitted to the Airbus A330 during its militarisation and tanker conversion by Airbus Military in Madrid which will start in July 2009. [Picture: Airbus Military]