The UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Airbus A330 Voyager Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) tanker has successfully refuelled the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft for the first time.
Carried out in the UK airspace over the North Sea at 19,000ft, the refuelling mission involved the use of the Voyager tanker based at RAF Brize Norton and the F-35B operated by No 617 Squadron based at RAF Marham, Norfolk.
The RAF’s tanker is the service’s main air-to-air refuelling aircraft, along with the Voyager KC Mk 2 and its two underwing pods for refuelling fast jets, as well as the Voyager KC Mk 3 with additional centreline hose for use by large aircraft.
No 101 Squadron 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.”
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The F-35B multi-role aircraft will be jointly operated by the UK RAF and the UK Royal Navy. It is capable of carrying out short take-offs and vertical landings.
The Lockheed Martin-built, fifth-generation aircraft can conduct missions such as air-to-surface, electronic warfare, intelligence gathering and air-to-air simultaneously.
The aircraft is scheduled to be deployed on the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
It is currently conducting flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of an 11-week campaign involving more than 500 take-offs and landings.