One of the most versatile and modern aircraft in the Royal Air Force is the Airbus Voyager.
These aircraft are used in both air-to-air refuelling and in passenger and troop transport, as well as cargo and logistics.
The aircraft are actually modified military variants of the Airbus A330, and have the designation Airbus A330-243(MRTT).
This latter code can be deciphered as Multi-Role Tanker Transport, indicating the intended role of the type in both transporting troops and providing an air-to-air refuelling service for fast jets.
The Voyager aircraft was introduced into the Royal Air Force fleet in 2011 to replace the ageing Lockheed L1011 TriStar and Vickers VC10 aircraft which had been providing tanker and transport services since the 1980s.
With it, the RAF introduced a modern aircraft which was more fuel-efficient to run, quieter, had better range and capacity, and all of the current generation of avionics and protection.
The Royal Air Force A330 MRTT fleet is actually owned and operated by a company called AirTanker Services (usually just known as AirTanker).
It is contracted by the RAF to operate these aircraft on its behalf, and also uses them on other charter work.
They are painted in standard Royal Air Force grey livery and titles, although they sometimes wear AirTanker titles, like in the picture above taken at Brize Norton.
The current RAF Voyager Fleet
There are 14 Airbus A330 MRTT “Voyagers” operated by the Royal Air Force. Serials and construction numbers below.
- ZZ330 (1046)
- ZZ331 (1248)
- ZZ332 (1275)
- ZZ333 (1312)
- ZZ334 (1033)
- ZZ335 (1334)
- ZZ336 (1363)
- ZZ337 (1390)
- ZZ338 (1419)
- ZZ339 / G-VYGJ (1439)
- ZZ340 / G-VYGK (1498)
- ZZ341 / G-VYGL (1555)
- ZZ342 / G-VYGM (1601)
- ZZ343 (1610)
Where to see the RAF Voyager Fleet
As with most of the RAF’s tanker and transport aircraft, the A330 Voyagers are based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, about 1.5 hours’ drive north of London.
The aircraft fly for both 10 Squadron and 101 Squadron which have their home at the air base.
On operational duties you will regularly see the Voyagers flying out over the North Sea to support fast jet training exercises, as well as the Falkland Islands.
However, when on transport duties you will often find them visiting the RAF’s overseas airbases, like Akrotiri in Cyprus and on the air bridge to Ascension Island and the Falklands.
Where troops are on missions or training exercises, the Voyagers will also be used in most cases to transport them to and from their home bases in the UK, which might not be Brize Norton.
Voyagers in Civilian Use
Because the RAF has more Voyagers than it needs at present, a couple of examples have been leased out to civilian operators for passenger use over recent years.
Over the past couple of summers, you could find examples flying with Jet2.com and Thomas Cook Airlines, ferrying holidaymakers out of airports like Manchester to sunnier parts of Europe and beyond. Given the standard onboard layout, combined with the exterior painted in the colours of the airline they’re flying for, the only giveaway is the registration of the aircraft, which will be in the G-VYGx sequence allocated to AirTanker’s Voyagers when in civil use.
With the loss of some of these airlines, and the downturn in aviation, we may not see the tankers in charter operation for a while.
Britain’s Air Force One Voyager
In June 2020 one of the RAF’s Voyager fleet was adorned with a new livery to reflect its role carrying Britain’s royalty, prime minister and other VIPs.
The aircraft chosen was ZZ336. It now wears a special Union Jack scheme and ‘United Kingdom’ titles.
While this is the official long-haul transport – Britain’s Air Force One if you like – it is still a tanker aircraft and will be deployed on missions with the RAF at other times.
Many other countries use the Airbus A330-243(MRTT) for similar roles, however only the Royal Air Force use the ‘Voyager’ name for the aircraft.