THE first public appearance of the Royal Air Force’s largest and newest aircraft will take place at the Royal International Air Tattoo next month.

The much-anticipated A330 tanker will feature on static display at the airshow at RAF Fairford on July 16-17 and will take part in an official naming ceremony to confirm its prestigious title, Voyager.

RAF A330 Voyager

RAF A330 Voyager

It will be the longest and widest aircraft in the RAF’s fleet with a wing span of 60 metres.

Voyager has been designed to carry a payload of up to 45 tonnes, which can include up to 291 passengers or 111 tonnes of fuel for its air-to-air refuelling or air transport missions.

Dave Mitchard, Managing Director for AirTanker Services Ltd – the company delivering the fleet to the RAF at Brize Norton – said: “We are delighted to have the Voyager aircraft on public display for the first time this year.

“The Air Tattoo provides the perfect showcase for the RAF’s future tanker and transport aircraft and we’re thoroughly looking forward to bringing it into service towards the end of this year.”

AirTanker’s contract with the Ministry of Defence will see them provide 14 purpose-built A330 tanker and transport aircraft, as well as the associated support services, including training, maintenance, infrastructure, flight operations and ground services.

Dave continued: “We’re going to provide a step change in capability for the RAF.

RAF A330 Voyager

RAF A330 Voyager

“We are using a new, modern aircraft, where traditionally the RAF has used existing aircraft and converted them for specific usage. Voyager will therefore have all the benefits associated with a new aircraft such as better fuel efficiency, greater reliability and quieter engines, which is particularly good news for those living in the local area.”

The first two aircraft within the Voyager fleet, which will replace the VC-10 and Tristar, have been converted by Airbus Military in their purpose-built facility near Madrid, Spain. Once the aircraft have been certified and qualified, they will be owned by AirTanker and leased to the Royal Air Force.

AirTanker has five shareholders – all well-known names within the defence and aviation sectors – who are also subcontractors for the programme.  They are Babcock, Cobham, EADS, Rolls-Royce and Thales.

The A330 will also have an aeromedical capability, which will enable it to carry up to 40 NATO stretchers and three critical care patients.

The name Voyager follows the heritage of a number of RAF tanker aircraft, with the names beginning with V, specifically the Victor and the VC-10 Tanker aircraft.

Squadron Leader Kevin Latchman, 30, who will be one of the first pilots to operate Voyager when the first of 14 A330s come in to service in the autumn, said: “This is a completely different way of doing business for the Royal Air Force and it has the potential to revolutionise an existing capability. The aircraft is brand new and being one of the first pilots to fly it is a very exciting prospect.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the Voyager at RIAT, especially because it will start to focus the mind on the fact that the aircraft will soon be entering service.”

This summer’s Air Tattoo will be marking its 40th anniversary and hosting a gathering of specially-decorated ‘Tiger’ aircraft from the NATO Tiger Association. ‘Tiger’ aircraft come from NATO squadrons that have a Tiger or Big Cat in their emblem and their association marks its 50th anniversary in 2011. The ‘operational’ spotlight STAR 11 will focus on aircraft and equipment involved in the roles of Strike and Reconnaissance.

Tickets are available by visiting www.airtattoo.com or calling 0800 107 1940. All tickets must be purchased in advance. All accompanied under-16s go free.