UK DEFENCE – GOODBYE VC10 – HELLO ‘VOYAGER’
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
18 Sep 13. As I write this the last in-service flight of a Vickers VC10 aircraft is probably taking place at close to Royal Air Force Brize Norton. I do not have final detail but I suspect that the two remaining VC10 K3 aircraft – ZA147 and ZA150 – may well be flying alongside the latest KC-30 ‘Voyager’ aircraft that is set to replace both VC10 and TriStar in the tanker refuelling and transport role very soon.
I have to admit to a huge soft spot for the Vickers VC10 primarily because it is a British designed and built aircraft that has been in service with the Royal Air Force all through my professional working life. In the 51 years since this brilliantly designed piece of engineering first took to the skies in JUne 1962 the VC10 has provided exemplary service to the Royal Air Force and in commercial airline service, what was later to become British Airways plus a handful of other airlines.
VC10 may be regarded as Britain’s final attempt to design and build a long-haul aircraft that could compete with American built aircraft and to this day the aircraft holds the record of being the fastest non-supersonic commercial airliner in the world. That it ultimately failed to achieve commercial success was political in both senses of the word and is certainly no reflection on Vickers or its then chief, the late Sir George Edwards. For those that have a larger interest in the story of the VC10 I have published a fuller account of the VC10 programme development and the politics that surrounded this in a four page article to be found in the September edition of the Royal Aeronautical Society Journal ‘Aerospace’.
Suffice to say that since the first aircraft were delivered to 10 Squadron in 1966 VC10 carried British troops and military service personnel all over the world with reliability and efficiency. Since 1979 when the aircraft began to replace the Handley Page Victor in the tanker refuelling role VC10 has supported Royal Air Force, USAF and NATO aircraft in this role in just about every conflict that Her Majesty’s armed forces have been involved.
The Royal Air Force has justifiably been proud of its brilliant air-to-air tanker refuelling role and I know from experience how highly regarded the work of 101 Squadron and the capability and reliability of the VC10 tanker aircraft is held by our own fast jet pilots and by those of USAF as well. Today then we say farewell to what I regard as a beautiful aircraft with its massive ‘T’ tail and the superb if somewhat noisy Rolls-Royce ‘Conway’ engines mounted in pairs on the rear fuselage. A delight to those who love analogue dials and switches in abundance VC10 really is the last of a line. You have done us proud and we really do thank you for that.
The withdrawal of VC10 tanker refuelling capacity opens a new chapter in this vitally important mission and that will see what the Royal Air Force has named ‘Voyager’ the Airbus KC-30 begin to take over the air-to-air tanker refuelling and military personnel transport role.
Based on the hugely successful A330 passenger aircraft ‘Voyager’ is a giant leap forward in design, capacity and performance and will provide the Royal Air Force with a significant increase in available capability. With a capacity to carry 291 military personnel over 6,000 miles (9,600km) in far greater comfort than the aircraft they replace the Airbus KC-30 aircraft – Voyager – will when in full Royal Air Force service have double the available transport, cargo and tanker refuelling capacity of the Vickers VC10 or Lockheed TriStar 1011 aircraft that they will replace.
A total of 14 Airbus KC-30 aircraft will eventually be available to the Royal Air Force under a £10.5bn, 24-year (from delivery of first aircraft) Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract programme that was signed by the Labour Government and Air Tanker (a partnership between EADS,