The A330 [Voyager] in its civilian ‘guise’ as the A330-200, is in service with more than 90 of the world’s leading airlines. This is something that Airbus Military, which takes this civilian model and converts it into its military configuration, argues, gives Voyager one of the most secure technical foundations of any military aircraft flying.
The only fully certified new-generation Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft (MRTT) of its type, flying today, this analysis is shared by one of those who has most experience flying it, Dave Hall, Training captain, AirTanker.
Joining the Voyager programme in October 2011 from Airbus Military, the former RAF VC10 pilot, flew all variations of the MRTT, including Voyager, the RAAF’s KC30 in addition to configurations for the Saudi and United Arab Emirates as part of Airbus Military’s flight testing team.
“It takes perhaps a little getting used to (it’s fly-by-wire and flight control is by side stick) but once you get used to it, it’s great to fly. It handles very well, is very forgiving, simple to operate and is a very capable aircraft”, enthuses Hall, who now serves alongside No 10 Squadron as a Sponsored Reservist pilot.
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 or a payload of 43 tonnes. It can also be set up to provide a 40 stretcher medical evacuation capability.
Hall continues: “The fuel capacity is enormous – 111 tonnes; slightly less than TriStar but it’s delivered without sacrificing and adapting hold-space. That gives the RAF a capability to transport troops or cargo without compromise - and simultaneously, to deliver, AAR.
“The capability of the airframe isn’t touched but the fuel off-load capability is so much better as it will give the RAF a large capacity two-point tanker, rather than single point tanker for the first time.”
It’s not just the flexibility in operation but also the technical capability of the aircraft that sets Voyager apart. Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines deliver an impressive 71,000 lbf (316kN) thrust. Fly-by-wire technology protects the flight envelope and reduces crew workload. While a cutting-edge vision system delivers 240 degree rear situation awareness, giving far greater visibility in air-to-air refueling missions.
This is something that Hall highlights as significantly enhancing effective and safe AAR operation: “Voyager has five digital cameras which deliver wing-tip to wing-tip coverage of the rear hemisphere of the aircraft.
“As well as the size of this visual ‘bubble’ you can zoom in to see exceptional detail, if you wanted to you could zoom in to the point that you can almost read the receiver pilots name badge. The system is also night-vision capable, which is another first for an RAF tanker.
“The specification of the AAR equipment, the flight management systems mean that Voyager delivers a tremendous step forward in operational capability from legacy aircraft.”
|Overall length ||58.8m (193ft) |
|Wingspan ||60.3m (198ft) |
|Maximum fuel capacity ||111 tonnes |
|Maximum payload ||43 tonnes |
|Maximum range ||8,000nm |
|Maximum speed ||Mach 0.86 |
Adapted from current in-production airliners, Voyager also shares a high level of fuel efficiency, developed by the aerospace industry in response to civilian operator demand for lower operating costs. “You can be coming back from Cyprus in a cruise with 200 passengers in with a burn-rate of 4tns/hour - that’s nearly half of what you would be doing in TriStar or VC10”, says Hall.
But it’s the reliability of the aircraft that Hall suggests is the biggest differential for both those flying and those being carried as passengers in it.
“I was flying VC10’s from 1996 through to 2007 and even then the aircraft were 35 years old. You’d be programmed for a one day flight but you would always pack for five because the high chance that you would get stuck somewhere.
“That’s all changed. We still get guys coming to us when they first join and packing for five days for a one day trip. After a little while with us that stops.
“The feedback we get from the Army on that basis is great. When they get to Minhad and they see that it’s Voyager bringing them back, they know that they’re going to be home on time.
“They also appreciate the seat pitch. They get 34inch leg room – that’s the equivalent of premium economy in either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic cabins.”
The operational programme also continues to progress. To date the two military aircraft since the start of operational service in April last year, ZZ330 and ZZ331, have together clocked more than 1,700 hours, flying more than 470 sectors, carrying more than 25,000 passengers and 2,000 tonnes plus, of freight.
Voyager 2, which flies on the Civilian Aircraft Register, has flown more than 230 hours and 73 sectors, carrying more than 5,000 passengers and more than 300 tonnes of freight. The aircraft G-VYGG, forms the core of AirTanker’s airline operation, which began operations with an inaugural flight to Akrotiri in January this year.
Operated and manned by a civilian crew, the service is available to the MOD to task in the same way as existing arrangements with other civilian charter airlines but with the advantages that come with exclusive usage.
“The other thing that is a real advantage in the operation is the exceptional service that goes with it”, says Hall. “AirTanker as an organisation, is highly focused on delivery and that tells in operational availability at 98 per cent.”
With testing successfully complete on air-to-air refueling for Voyager with Tornado and Typhoon late last year and AAR release-to-service, currently going through the MOD approval process, ground-based AAR training is also well underway.
With a second squadron expected to join 10 Squadron later this year, the responsibility for AAR training sits jointly between AirTanker as the service provider and the RAF.
This is something which as Training captain, also sits firmly within Hall’s remit. “The programme starts in the classroom at AirTanker’s training school, then aircraft type and air transport training in the simulator before AAR specific, training. It’s a technically advanced programme.”
The jewel in AirTanker’s training crown, the Reality 7 SIM, has been tailored to emulate Voyager in every specific detail in both its military and civilian configurations. It, and the flat panel simulators, run off exactly the same software as the Voyager aircraft itself, receiving synchronized updates in time with uploads of ‘actual’ aircraft software, so that the cross over from SIM to flight deck is seamless.
Hall concludes: “Voyager represents a massive increase in capability and technology. The step to large capacity, two-point tanking is particularly critical in the delivery of increased capability.
“The A330 is established in the civil airline world. The military modifications that are applied to it in Voyager give the RAF a very strong and operationally flexible, air transport and AAR platform.”