About the Voyager
Voyager is the RAF’s sole air-to-air refuelling (AAR) tanker and also operates as a strategic air transport. The aircraft is in service as the Voyager KC.Mk 2, equipped with two underwing pods for refuelling fast jets, and as the Voyager KC.Mk 3, with an additional centreline hose for use by large aircraft.
Fuel offloaded during AAR is taken from the aircraft’s standard wing and fuselage tanks, leaving the cabin free for up to 291 personnel and the hold available for freight. As a tanker, capabilities include the ability to operate a ‘towline’, where the Voyager orbits around a prescribed area awaiting ‘receivers’, or in a ‘trail’, where it flies with a number of fast jets, refuelling them over long ranges while taking responsibility for the formation’s fuel and navigation.
Alternatively, it can operate as a passenger aircraft in much the same way as a civilian airliner, but delivering personnel safely into theatre thanks to its defensive aids suite. Voyager also offers considerable capacity for the movement of palletised and/or bulk freight in its lower fuselage hold. A versatile aeromedical configuration, including the ability to carry up to 40 stretchers and three critical care patients is available, as is a modest VIP passenger fit.
Airbus Industrie launched its combined A340/A330 programme on June 5, 1987. It aimed to produce a family of closely related widebody airliners based on the four-engined, long-haul A340 and twin-engined, medium-haul A330. The latter achieved its first flight, with General Electric engines, on November 2, 1992, with the initial Rolls-Royce Trent-powered machine following on January 31, 1994.
Typically for Airbus, the A330’s pilots interact with its fly-by-wire system via sidestick controllers rather than the yoke traditionally associated with large aircraft. The basic A330-200 and longer A330-300 have been developed into a wide range of subvariants offering revised performance and different maximum take-off weights.
The earlier A310 widebody had found favour with several air arms as the basis for conversion into a military transport or multi-role tanker transport (MRTT), and Airbus recognised the type’s potential as a possible TriStar/VC10 replacement in the early 1990s, trialling a modified aircraft alongside RAF fast jets in 1995. It was subsequently expected to offer the A310 MRTT against the UK’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) requirement, announced as a likely private finance initiative (PFI) programme in 2000. In the event, the procurement process was delayed and although Airbus did not tender, in 2004 the Ministry of Defence announced its intention to acquire a variant of the A330 MRTT.
Under a March 2008 agreement, the AirTanker consortium was selected to provide 14 aircraft under a 27-year contract. This includes a so-called ‘Core Fleet’ of eight military serialled and one civilian-registered aircraft, supplemented by a ‘Surge Fleet’ of five civilian-registered aircraft that AirTanker uses commercially to generate additional revenue. The surge aircraft are demodified very close to A330-200 standard and can be recalled for military use if required.
AirTanker owns, manages and maintains the aircraft and provides infrastructure,
support, training facilities and some personnel, in particular Sponsored Reserve pilots and engineers. Named Voyager in service, the A330 MRTT began RAF operations with 10 Sqn on May 12, 2012, flying an air transport sortie from its Brize Norton home base to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
Issues with the drogues, or ‘baskets’ into which receivers insert their probes during refuelling operations delayed Voyager’s debut in the tanker role, but these had been overcome by summer 2013 and the aircraft’s ability to deliver fuel to a variety of RAF and allied aircraft expanded very quickly. Also in 2013, 101 Squadron retired the RAF’s final VC10s and began flying Voyager alongside 10 Sqn and AirTanker’s reservists.
Although it ranges worldwide, Voyager remains home-based at Brize Norton. One aircraft is always available on the Falkland Islands, primarily in support of the Typhoon QRA jets, but also available to the Hercules. Another of the type operates the regular airbridge to and from the Falklands and Voyager is making a major contribution to Operation Shader, offloading fuel to RAF Tornados and Typhoons, and a variety of Coalition jets, including US Marine Corps Harriers and F/A-18 Hornets.
Header image by Paul Crouch
Airbus Defence and Space Voyager:
- Powerplant: two 71,100lb st (316kN) Rolls-Royce Trent 772B turbofans
- Length: 192ft 11¾in (58.82m)
- Height: 57ft ½in (17.39m)
- Wingspan: 197ft 10in (60.30m)
- Wing area: 3,892.20sqft (361.60m2)
- Maximum speed: around Mach 0.86
- Typical mission range: capable of delivering around 132,000lb (60,000kg) of fuel during five hours on station at 500nm (930km) from base
- Range with maximum payload: 4,500nm (8,334km)
- Maximum range with maximum fuel: 8,000nm (14,816km)
- Maximum altitude: 41,000ft
- Maximum fuel load: 245,000lb (111,000kg)
- Maximum payload: around 99,000lb (45,000kg)
- Maximum passenger load: 291