‘To hit the mark’

Category: AirTanker


Wg Cdr Dan James, completed his tour as the first Officer Commanding (O/C) a Voyager Squadron at the end of November, signalling the end of one of the early chapters in the aircraft’s history. Voyager Media reports.

“Leading and creating a cohesive Squadron when a lot of the roles that would traditionally have been performed by that Squadron – flight ops, crew scheduling, training and nominal control over loggies and engineers, – are being performed by ‘civvies’, is different.  It does represent challenges and there is no blue-print for what we have been doing but in all it has been an incredibly enjoyable journey”, comments Wg Cdr Dan James.

As the first Officer Commanding of a Voyager Squadron, the past two-and-half years have represented a watershed moment in Wg Cdr James’ own career, but also No. 10 Squadron’s almost 100 year history.

Having joined the RAF in 1996 as a pilot he completed seven years on the VC10 taking part in Operations Bolton, Southern Watch and TELIC before promotion and posting to RAF High Wycombe with a responsibility for progressing air and land integration.

Returning to No. 101 Squadron in 2008 as a flight commander, he deployed in support of numerous VC10 air-to-air refuelling (AAR) and air transport (AT) detachments including those in support of Ops TELIC and HERRICK. This was followed by a stint at Shrivenham, before joining Voyager in August 2011.

If this experience served James well from an operational perspective, in integrating a Squadron alongside a civilian programme, he and his colleagues were cutting new territory.


“There was that initial reaction from all of us at seeing quite so many ‘civvies’ around”, he says with a wry smile. “That took adjustment and in those early days we were all very conscious – myself and Squadron Leaders Delia Chadwick and Kev Latchman – that we retained our identity as a strong and cohesive military squadron.”

But if working alongside ‘civvies’ required something of a cultural adjustment, James is quick to emphasise the value that this process has added to his own experiences and that of No. 10 Sqn. He continues: “We have gained a huge amount as individuals and as a Squadron through exposure to civilian airline operations. In particular, through the Sponsored Reservist training team, Iain Cullen, Kieran Roebuck the rest of the team there that have that real depth of aircraft-type experience and that’s been advantageous to me personally and the Squadron as a whole”.

Employed by AirTanker, but doubling-up to a role as an RAF Reservist, the deployment of civilian/Sponsored Reservist pilots and engineers in support of No.s 10 and 101 Squadron offer a prime example of the role that reservists are already playing alongside full time military personnel. This is clearly something very much in tune with Government plans to expand the role of reservists in its Force 2020 programme.

“The use of SRs in this programme is something that is unique to RAF Brize Norton. The Government is pushing the Reservist agenda but I can genuinely say that here, it is working. The A330 experience that the SRs bring is invaluable and it gives us a depth and a resource, although not without certain complexities, that we simply wouldn’t have otherwise.”

So what of Voyager itself? An incarnation of the Airbus Military new-generation Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft (MRTT), RAF Voyager is the only aircraft of its type, fully certified to perform AT and AAR roles simultaneously.

Able to carry 111 tonnes of fuel, Voyager does so without the requirement for additional fuel tanks, which means its’ cargo hold and passenger capacity remain un-checked. In its configuration for the RAF, it can carry 291 passengers, eight NATO pallets up to a payload of 43 tonnes. As a derivative of the MRTT, it can also be set up to provide a 40 stretcher medical evacuation capability.


“It’s a beautiful aircraft to fly. It’s very capable and once you have an awareness of the automated systems, it’s also fun. I have every confidence in it as an AT capability and a growing confidence in Voyager as an AAR asset”, says James.

He continues: “Informal reports from Typhoon and Tornado pilots suggest that it’s a good stable platform to refuel from; they have a growing confidence in it and, without a doubt, it’s going to be a very valuable tactical and strategic asset.”

Days away from taking up a new role at the Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood in plans, including RAF contingency planning for Africa, James reflected on his own experience as part of the Voyager programme. “It’s been challenging, it is a unique programme and we have had to find our own way. It’s taught me a lot about the importance of relationships, of continuous communication to keep things moving and about trust and confidence in those around you.

“I believe we have put some solid frameworks in place, which Jamie [Wg Cdr Jamie Osborne now O/C 10 Squadron] and Ronnie [Wg Cdr Ronnie Trasler, O/C 101 Squadron], will now shape and take forward to a new chapter.

“But for my part, while there is still more to do I am proud of what has been achieved by both No 10 Squadron and the wider team here at Brize.”