The UK Royal Air Force’s VIP Voyager aircraft has returned to its primary role of Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) and personnel transport after the completion of its new $1.1 million paint scheme featuring Union Flag.
The aircraft today supported operational training acting as a ‘petrol station in the sky’ offering refueling support to RAF Lightning and Typhoon fighters during Exercise CRIMSON OCEAN. Taking off from RAF Brize Norton, the aircraft spent most of the day airborne to provide several refueling stops for the fighters taking part in the joint RAF and Royal Navy exercise.
“The new livery looks superb but the reality is that flying this aircraft is no different to any of the other aircraft that make up the Voyager Force. It is capable of conducting the same essential Defence tasks, not least of which is the air-to-air refuelling role that allows us to deploy our Typhoon and Lightning aircraft to every corner of the globe. Taking part in Exercise Crimson Ocean is a great opportunity to show what Voyager can do,” said Wing Commander Alistair Scott, Officer Commanding of 10 Squadron.
Exercise CRIMSON OCEAN allows the Royal Navy and RAF to train and hone their ability to deliver routine fighter and helicopter operations in a range of environments from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. Lightning aircraft from 617 Squadron have been onboard the carrier since 10th June when they left their base at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
So whilst for the time being, the VIP Voyager is back to its ‘day job’ the aircraft will soon be fulfilling its important VIP role, displaying the new Union Flag livery for the UK across the world when transporting Ministerial, Royal and their delegations on trade, diplomatic and other missions.
The VIP Voyager aircraft, known as Vespina and also often referred to as ‘ZZ336’ which is its military registration number, arrived at its homebase of RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on June 25 after being painted at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group’s facility in Cambridge.
“Vespina” is now operating alongside the rest of the RAF Voyager fleet. Alongside its VIP Role, the aircraft remains certified for its original use, including Air-to-Air Refuelling and personnel transport. It can fly from and to almost any airport across the world that can take an Airbus A330, and its range allows it to reach much of the world without costly and time-consuming refuelling.
The aircraft was previously visually indistinguishable from the rest of the Operational Voyager Fleet which has a grey military livery. According to RAF, this new external paint scheme will better reflect its VIP mission and contribution to ‘Global Britain’. The paintwork concludes a refurbishment stemming from the 2015 SDSR.
The Project was not only about the visual design, this was a complex engineering project requiring detailed drawings which were developed by AIRBUS. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group were then chosen to deliver the project on time and within budget.
The Voyager is a hugely capable tanker, able to carry up to 111 tonnes of fuel, the highest capacity of all tanker aircraft, with the ability to dispense 50,000 kg of fuel to a broad range of aircraft during a four-hour loitering mission at over 1,000 nm from its take-off point.
There were some “allegations” earlier that the flag on the starboard side of the aircraft is wrong. The RAF clarified this with the following statement.
“Despite appearances the flag design is correct in all respects and follows the convention for the flag to appear as though it is flying from a flag placed on the nose of the aircraft, as it travels through the air. When viewing the starboard side (right hand side), this can give the mistaken impression that the design is backwards, or upside down, when in fact the observer is simply viewing the reverse side of the flag.”