The largest RAF aircraft in history has arrived in the UK for the first time.The new tanker and transport plane – named the Voyager – is almost 60m (197ft) long and has a 60m wingspan.It is twice the size of a Lancaster bomber and will replace the VC-10 and Tristar aircraft. The RAF has bought 14 Voyagers and the first is expected to be in service by the end of the year.The plane arrived at the MoD’s airfield at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, where further trails will be carried out.The Voyager, a converted Airbus A330-200 airliner, can carry 291 troops for more than 6,000 miles (9,656km).It can refuel another aircraft in the air with 100,000 litres of fuel, more than the amount contained by two large petrol tankers.The Ministry of Defence said it can refuel at a rate of 5,000 litres per minute, compared with a pump at a garage that delivers fuel at 40 litres per minute.
Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, said: “The arrival of the first Voyager aircraft in the UK marks an important milestone in the process that will see the Royal Air Force equipped with the best available air-to-air refuelling capability, with the first due in service by the end of the year.”Recent events in Libya and ongoing requirement for air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan clearly demonstrate the essential role that air-to-air refuelling plays in getting our aircraft to where they are needed.”Fourteen Voyager aircraft are being provided to the RAF under a 27-year, £10.5bn private finance initiative contract signed with the AirTanker consortium in 2008. The plane and its parts are being manufactured and assembled in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.One of the Voyagers arrived at Boscombe Down on Monday, and two of the planes will be based there during an intensive programme of testing that will continue into next year.
Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn, Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, said: “Over the next few years the Voyager will join the versatile A400M transport, C-17 strategic airlifter and well-proven Hercules transport aircraft to form an RAF fleet that can handle any task that comes its way in the future.”I look forward to a successful trials programme that will keep the aircraft on track for delivery at the earliest opportunity.”The arrival of the Voyager comes as the armed forces face budget cuts and job losses over the next four years.Under the strategic defence review announced last year, the RAF is to lose 5,000 jobs, with 1,020 going by September.In addition, the Harrier jump jet and Nimrod reconnaissance planes will be scrapped, and some air force bases will close.