The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is to increase the aerial refuelling clearances of its Airbus Defence and Space (DS) Voyager KC2/3 tanker-transport aircraft to include two new large aircraft types, a senior service official disclosed on 26 September.
Speaking at the home of the Voyager fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, Wing Commander Jamie Osborne, Officer Commanding 10 Squadron, said the force expects to be granted air-to-air refuelling (AAR) clearance for the Boeing E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft, to be followed by the Airbus DS A400M Atlas airlifter.
“We can do [Panavia] Tornado GR.4, [Eurofighter] Typhoon, and [Lockheed Martin] C-130J refuelling already,” he said, adding: “We expect to get clearance for the E-3D at the end of this year, with the A400M tripping along very quickly after that.”
With these five types cleared, the Voyager will be able to transfer fuel to the entirety of the RAF’s fleet that is equipped for hose-and-probe AAR. All 14 Voyager tanker-transport aircraft to be operated for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by the AirTanker consortium of Babcock, Cobham, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Thales will be equipped with two underwing hose-and-probe units (designated KC2), with half to be fitted with a third fuselage refuelling unit (KC3). With 10 aircraft so far delivered (nine of which are in service as the ‘core fleet’), there are no plans to fit any of the remaining aircraft with a boom to enable them to refuel the RAF’s receptacle-equipped large aircraft types, such as the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III and RC-135W Rivet Joint.
Beyond the RAF’s hose-and-probe fleet, Wg Cdr Osborne said trials with US Navy (USN) types are being co-ordinated with Air Command, although he declined to divulge further details at this stage.
While the Voyager is cleared to fuel UK aircraft and will shortly be working up clearances for USN aircraft also, the RAF cannot fuel other nations that are operating the same aircraft types. “We are not currently cleared to fuel other nation’s [Tornados, Typhoons and C-130s], but the very fact that we are doing so for UK aircraft would form part of the analysis for the technical aircraft authority would use to give a clearance if it was operationally required,” Wg Cdr Osborne said.
According to the wing commander, the Voyager offers a step-change in capability compared to the BAC VC10 and Lockheed L-1011 TriStar that preceded it. Based on the A330-200 airliner, the two/three-point Voyager can carry 111 tonnes of fuel, burning 6 tonnes per hour in flight (this can be reduced to 4 tonnes when flying at the maximum endurance speed). By comparison, the two/three-point VC10 could carry 70-80 tons, burning 7 tonnes per hour, while the single-point TriStar could carry 130 tonnes, burning 8 tonnes per hour.