The RAF have announced that one of its Voyager Air-to-Air Refuelling tankers has completed the first UK refuel of the F-35B.

According to a news release, the refuel took place on the 16th October 2018, over the North Sea at 19000ft.

“The Voyager, based at RAF Brize Norton, home to the RAF’s Air Mobility Fleet is no stranger to refuelling fast jets, being the RAF’s sole AAR capability. The Voyager KC. Mk 2, is equipped with two underwing pods for refuelling fast jets, and the Voyager KC. Mk 3 has an additional centreline hose for use by larger aircraft.”

The Voyager Captain said:

“The Voyager aircraft offers a highly capable Air-to-Air Refuelling capability, with which we provide regular support to many of the RAF’s fixed wing aircraft.  Supporting the new F-35B, as it enters service, is a hugely important task for the Voyager Force. 

Today’s sortie went extremely well and builds on the Air-to-Air Refuelling deployment sorties flown from the US to the UK earlier this year.  We look forward to enhancing our support for the F35B during this important period for the F-35B development programme.”

A Royal Navy F-35B pilot in 617 Squadron also said in the release:

“It’s fantastic to be able to link up the UK’s 5th generation asset with the RAF’s Voyager tanker in UK skies for the first time.  Being able to refuel from an asset such as Voyager gives the F-35B the ability to deliver world beating air power at range in defence of the nation.”


    • “Under a March 2008 agreement, the AirTanker consortium was selected to provide 14 aircraft under a 27-year contract. This includes a so-called ‘Core Fleet’ of eight military serialled and one civilian-registered aircraft, supplemented by a ‘Surge Fleet’ of five civilian-registered aircraft that AirTanker uses commercially to generate additional revenue. The surge aircraft are demodified very close to A330-200 standard and can be recalled for military use if required.”

  1. First four F35’s arrived on the 06.06.2018, so it appears that things are finally moving along at quite a pace!

  2. Thoughts. Can the “awacs” equipment be containerised? Obviously, ‘Top Hat’ is an issue but if the planes double between refuelers and people movers, could they take on an awacs role?

    • It’s a very bad idea to combine a tanker and an aerial refuelling aircraft. This is because of very high power RF being generated and transmitted, as the voltage jumps above 40Kv strange things happen to the way electricity travels i.e. the skin effect. This has the ability to cause sparking where it jumps very small gaps with a risk of causing a vapour explosion.
      Technically it can be done, but it’s very risky as there so many safety controls that need to be adhered to.

    • I saw a discussion about this on another comment thread (if not on here then on the Warzone I think, good site to check out), because the Indians are looking at doing that with their aircraft. Aside from the scientific issues, AWACS and tankers fly very different orbits of the battle space to their jobs most effectively. This would either mean you’re compromising on how available your fuel is to combat jets (not ideal) or on how good a picture of the battle space you have and how effectively you can control your assets (probably less ideal).
      You’re probably better either doing what we do (saving money by leasing the aircraft and thus avoiding the high sustainment costs of an additional aircraft type), or have separate AWACS, tankers and potentially air transport and maritime patrol aircraft, but all with a common airframe. That way a lot of you’re minimising costs as far as possible without sacrificing capability.

  3. Thanks DaveyB. Given it must be some kind of skin they insert inside the aircraft, can remove, and then take passengers I just wondered.

  4. I actually think we can use more voyagers for VIP’s with secondary refuelling tasking. this has worked very well.

    They do seem to be very good value for money and the deal seems to be working well.

  5. (Chris H) – Just me being overly ‘British’ but I think the one kitted out for the Queen and PM should be repainted into the original VC10 colours of white over grey separated by the blue lightning flash. And with a Union Jack on the tail rather than RAF triple colour block.

    Like this:

  6. And the test Aircraft on Queen Elizabeth have already fired off inert weapons as part of their trials. Things really are progressing well.

    As for repainting the voyager, I’m on the fence. I’d certainly agree with bringing some of the extra five currently used by civilian airlines back into military service, perhaps grant them to 32 Squadron. Perhaps they can be painted in a more visible colour scheme?

    (Of course, I’d love to see the return of a Royal Yacht too)

  7. Is it about time that some of the Voyagers were fitted with flying booms to refuel the larger aircraft in the fleet?
    Also, weren’t the F35bs refuelled by Voyagers on the trip across the pond? I think the press release is referring to the first refuelling in British skies.

    • I’ve been mentioning the idea of the KC2s being fitted with booms for a while – you’ve got Rivet Joint, Globemaster, Poseidon and now potentially Wedgetail that are solely fitted for boom refuelling; fitting booms would allow better integration with other air forces; and if Australia can do it why can’t we?

      • (Chris H) – we have had this discussion many times recently. My view is that given we have 8 C-17s and 3 RC-135s the cost of converting all of our Voyagers to ARBS (Boom) just isn’t worth while and both are long range aircraft anyway.

        Now we get into the sticky patch of whether the Poseidons should be fitted on the production line with Probes & Drogue system to suit and match the UK standard refuelling system. I cannot see any reason why Boeing cannot provide this, given Cobham are more than capable of doing this on the Boeing production line and why we as a customer should pay extra for it. Our E-3 Sentrys were converted to Probe & Drogue and I don’t recall too many dramas doing it. Another person holds a different view as his right

        As for the E-7 we do not have a specification let alone a price or numbers of aircraft but what is sure is they could also be fitted with Probe & Drogue systems given they share the front fuselage with Poseidons (and a historic relationship to the E-3 which came from the KC-135 tanker sourced from the Dash-8 prototype).

        Australian tankers were specified with Booms because they basically only buy American warplanes although interestingly their 106 F / EA-18s use Probe & Drogue! But their Boom refuelled fleet looks like this:
        90+ new F-35As
        12+ P-8A Poseidons (to replace Orions)
        10 C-27J Spartan Freighters
        10 C-130J Hercules
        8 C-17 Globemasters
        So they have / will have over 140 aircraft needing Boom refuelling. We have 11.

        As for refuelling other nation’s aircraft? Its only derivatives from / and US Air Force aircraft that we can’t refuel. We can refuel every other nation’s aircraft (like Rafale, Gripen, F-18, F-35B, F-35C etc)

      • (Chris H) Philip – Can I gently correct you on the Voyager? The ‘KC Mk 2’ (KC2) only has wing pod refuelling points whereas the ‘KC Mk 3’ (KC3) has both wing and fuselage centre line refuelling points. The fuselage line being high volume. If we were to retro fit ARBS then it is the KC3s that would be so fitted as they are passively engineered for the ARBS Boom and have all the internal systems already fitted.


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