The Air-to-Air Tanking operation was conducted from a RAF Voyager aircraft flying from the Falklands Islands. The Atlas was flown from RAF Brize Norton to the Ascension Island, before then flying on to the Falklands. During the flight the transport aircraft was met by a RAF Voyager over the South Atlantic, that had earlier taken off from Mount Pleasant Complex, the principal military base on the Falkland Islands. The Atlas aircraft was refuelled using what is known as the probe-and-drogue system. The refuelling probe extends from the front of the transport aircraft above the cockpit. The pilot then has to dock this probe into the basket of the drogue that has been extended from the Voyager to allow refuelling.
“It was a great privilege to Captain the Voyager on the first operational re-fuel of an Atlas, after successfully meeting them some 900 nautical miles south west of Ascension Island and 2600 nautical miles north east of Mount Pleasant Airfield. The Voyager’s capability to extend the global reach of our aircraft is remarkable,”Flight Lieutenant James, Captain of the Voyager aircraft.
“The execution of long-range Air-to-Air refuelling by frontline crews is a major milestone for Atlas. The ability of this aircraft to operate at significant range from the UK, demonstrates our enhanced and resilient force sustainment capabilities. This has been a whole force effort that shows what we can achieve when we combine the strengths of our assets across the Air Mobility Force,” Wing Commander Patton, Officer Commanding 30 Squadron said.
Air-to-Air refuelling is one of the most difficult manoeuvres that pilots carry out and requires intense concentration from both the crews. The operation requires the pilot of the receiving aircraft to maintain close formation with the tanker aircraft for the duration of the activity while fuel is transferred by the Mission Systems Operator, flying in the Voyager. The RAF Voyager that is based at Mount Pleasant airfield is maintained by an engineering support team that ensures the aircraft is ready to fly 365 days a year in some of the most challenging conditions faced across the globe. The successful completion of this sortie increases the capability of the RAF Brize Norton based Air Mobility Force to deliver essential cargo right to where it needs to be. The flight demonstrated that increased capability to deliver freight and personnel to the South Atlantic when required.
The Airbus A400M Atlas is a European four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft. It was designed by Airbus Military as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities to replace older transport aircraft, such as the Transall C-160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The A400M is sized between the C-130 and the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III; it can carry heavier loads than the C-130 and is able to use rough landing strips. The United Kingdom reduced its order from 25 to 22 aircraft. With a useful maximum payload capacity of 32t, the Atlas will replace the RAF’s already-retired Lockheed Martin C-130K Hercules. The Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) is an aerial refuelling tanker aircraft based on the civilian Airbus A330. The Voyager KC is a Royal Air Force designation for an A330 MRTT with two Cobham 905 under-wing pods, primarily used for refuelling fast jets.