The British MoD has reached an important milestone in its future strategic tanker aircraft (FSTA) programme with the announcement that the first set of wings has left the production plant on their way to assembly in Toulouse, France.

The wings are destined for the first of 14 A330-200-based tanker aircraft ordered last year under an innovative £13bn contract with the AirTanker consortium.

The future strategic tanker aircraft will replace the RAF’s long-serving fleet of VC-10 and Tristar tankers, undertaking a range of transport and air refuelling tasks.

Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Quentin Davies said that the delivery was good new for the RAF and good news for industry and UK jobs.

“These aircraft will provide an important contribution to operations, enabling the RAF to continue its essential air to air refuelling tasks, as well as providing more reliable and economical transport for our personnel,” Davies said.

The aircraft represents a significant advance in capability over its predecessors, with improved reliability, performance and economy. In its air-to-air refuelling role it will have the ability to offload 60t of fuel 1,000 miles from base, and remain on station for two hours.

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The AirTanker consortium comprises Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce, Thales and VT Group. The Airbus Military division of EADS will be responsible for designing, developing and converting the tankers and for delivering the completed aircraft to AirTanker.

By Daniel Garrun.