“I’m an absolute convert. You flick the [Voyager] start switch and the engine starts. You know you’re going to get airborne. Reliability simply isn’t an issue”, enthuses Wing Commander Jamie Osborne. Three months into his new role as Officer Commanding 10 Squadron, his enthusiasm for Voyager and his new post, borders on the evangelical.
He continues: “Flying the legacy fleet you would get delayed for any number of reasons, which just don’t exist with Voyager - that is good for our reputation as Squadrons, for the Voyager Force and for the RAF.”
Osborne picked up the reigns as the head of No. 10 Squadron from his predecessor, Wing Commander Dan James in November. His appointment followed that of Wing Commander Ronnie Trasler, O/C No. 101 Squadron, which stood up as the second Voyager Squadron in August last year.
Without ‘watering down’ a strong sense of individual identity, the two Squadrons have adopted a joint manning strategy, which sees flight and cabin crew from each, operating side-by-side on individual flights. “We can’t justify any duplication in the roles that we perform. Air transport, air-to-air refuelling (AAR) and training are being run jointly across the Squadrons as the most effective route to delivery”, explains Osborne.
Within this joint ‘Voyager Force’, Osborne has assumed the lead for training. Delivered as part of its contract with the MOD by AirTanker, the development of a new generation of Voyager pilots, AAR Mission Systems Operators and military cabin crew, forms a critical part of the Voyager Programme.
Osborne continues: “The coming months are going to be so important in developing our capability. To get up to 30 flight deck crews by the end of this year we’re going to have an influx of people, some with a lot of experience, others with less.
“To get to strength, we’re going to have to have that cross-fertilisation of experience and expertise throughout the whole team.”
Osborne joined the RAF in April 1997 as a raw recruit aged 18, qualifying as a VC 10 pilot with 101 Squadron in December 2000. A little over a year later he saw theatre for the first time in November 2001 as part of Operation Veritas, flying into Afghanistan.
Seeing operational service for a second time in 2003 during the Second Gulf War, he joined 216 Squadron in 2004 at the ‘sticks’ of the Tristar, seeing operational service for a second time over Afghanistan. Following his tour as a Flight Commander, in March 2009 Osborne was recruited to the outer offices of ACAS’ office then as second stint in MOD, before joining 10 Squadron on August 1 2013.
Voyager began flying to and from Camp Bastion in support of the Afghan air bridge via Akrotiri and Minhad on the 8th December. Having ‘proved its salt’, delivering high levels of reliability, it has also picked up a regular service direct to Camp Bastion and via Akrotiri, to accommodate statutory theatre decompression.
“It just gets people there faster. You can leave Brize and be in your theatre accommodation within 10 hours compared to perhaps one or even two days. That’s a real advantage”, says Osborne.
He added that the aircraft’s reputation for reliability was also being noticed, in particular by the end user, the UK military. He cited a recent flight returning from Akrotiri where he had engaged a Brigadier in conversation.
“He was totally satisfied because his people were totally satisfied” says Osborne. “The only downside being that there was one less thing to banter the RAF about!
“And that ripples out and reflects through the whole team. The passengers are happier so the cabin crew are happier, it makes for an incredibly positive atmosphere”, continues Osborne.
This is also helped by the step change in comfort delivered by Voyager. A 291 seat single economy class features a standard Airbus A330 2-4-2 seating configuration with a 34 inch pitch (leg room), plus in-flight entertainment system.
To date, and since the start of air transport operations in April 2012, military aircraft have together clocked more than 6,200 hours, flying more than 1,680 sectors, carrying 7,100 tonnes plus of freight and almost 107,000 passengers.
“Progress has also been very good. There have been glitches and things to get over but you’re going to get that with any major programme”, says Osborne.
“The important thing now is to sustain capability and to remember that this is a marathon not a sprint – our progress has to be sustainable. That said it is an incredibly exciting time for the Voyager Force, we have a very capable aircraft and we are exploiting that capability to the advantage of the UK’s military forces.”
He concludes: “In Voyager, we have something to be very proud of. Personally I am absolutely humbled to be in command of a fantastic team of people who operate with complete commitment and the utmost professionalism.”