A Royal Air Force (RAF) Voyager aircraft has participated in the Tactical Leadership Programme, providing air-air refuelling support to one of the most challenging flying training courses in NATO. In practical terms personnel are instructed on the planning, briefing and execution of tactical air operations. This includes acting as mission commanders to lead multinational training sorties involving formations of different types of fighter aircraft and helicopters. At Los Llanos Air Base, Spain, individually selected pilots and aircrew from across NATO undertake the three-week Tactical Leadership Programme, part of a long-running initiative to improve the interoperability and effectiveness of Allied Air Forces.
“We provide Air-to-Air Refuelling to the jets which enables them to stay in the air much longer. This also adds a good deal of realism to the fight for them because in reality they would come to us to refuel in most scenarios, and so it gives them practice whilst under pressure,” said Squadron Leader Winsor, Mission Support Officer 10 Squadron.
“The scenarios are as realistic as can make them. We have 12 scenarios we use throughout each flying course on Tactical Leadership Programme. There’s months that go into the planning of these, and they include attacking defended airfields, a combat search and rescue mission, various synthetic and real surface-to-air missiles sites, and a very effective simulation of Red Air,” said Wing Commander Millington, UK Senior National Representative.
NATO air-air tanker and fast jet crews are trained to standard operating procedures laid out in NATO documents. The skills required to refuel are perishable and so regular practice is required. Operating from Torrejón Air Force base near Madrid, the Voyager crew drawn from 10 Squadron and 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, provided fuel to some of the fighter jets from seven NATO countries including Eurofighters from the German Air Force and F-35B Lightnings from the US Marine Corps. The RAF Voyager fleet provides vital support to UK Defence. In addition to AAR at home and overseas, including on Operation Shader, the fleet are an integral part of UK Quick Reaction Alert in the UK and the Falkland Islands, the support of overseas bases and exercises, and most recently part of the operation to safely evacuate civilians from Afghanistan.
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. 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’. Alternatively, it can operate as a passenger aircraft in much the same way as a civilian airliner. 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.