Cobham takes delivery of third FSTA
Cobham has taken delivery of the third Airbus A330 destined to become a Royal Air Force (RAF) Voyager tanker aircraft.
The aircraft, which arrived at Bournemouth on 26 August, has already had its seats and auxiliary power unit removed as Cobham engineers begin the transformation from a standard production A330-200 airliner into a three-point tanker configuration.
Cobham will be installing the mission and aerial refuelling systems on the 12 of 14 Voyagers eventually destined for the RAF under the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) project. The first two aircraft were modified by Airbus Military in Spain. One of these is undergoing flight testing at Boscombe Down for certification and receiver trials, while the other is back in Spain being refurbished prior to delivery to the RAF in November.
The A330s are being modified in a hangar originally built for the Nimrod 2000 programme. Now it has been refurbished and modified ready for Voyager work. Some 250 staff will work in shifts modifying two aircraft at a time.
Des Taylor, MD of Cobham Aviation Services, described the hangar as a 'maternity ward', saying his engineers were 'doctors and nurses about to deliver for us'.
Taylor said that 20 Cobham engineers had been working alongside Airbus Military in Spain for the past two years examining the conversion with the aim of de-risking the modification before the programme moved to the UK.
The tanker project has generated an extra 100 jobs, and the work will touch virtually every part of the airframe, including cockpit modifications, the addition of a mission console to control the refuelling systems as well as the fitment of defensive aids. All the tankers are being fitted with Cobham's 905E wing-mounted hose drogue unit while seven will be fitted for the company's 805E fuselage mounted system designed to refuel larger aircraft such as the A400M or the E-3 Sentry.
AM Kevin Leeson, Chief of Materiel (Air), was at Bournemouth to welcome the aircraft but revealed that the RAF had been in discussions with Airtanker about bringing forward the training for aerial refuelling to potentially assist with operations over Libya.
'We were starting to look at, if the Libya operation had been continuing, to actually slightly re-jig the conversion programme to put a greater focus on to bringing air refuelling capability,' said Leeson.
'As events in Libya are moving apace, we plan to continue putting the aircraft into the AT [air transport] role first.'
Phill Blundell, CEO of Airtanker, the consortium which will own and operate the Voyager, said there were still hurdles to overcome but he was confident of getting the first aircraft into service at its future home of RAF Brize Norton by the end of October.
'We have benefitted from risk mitigation, because the Australian aircraft did it before us. We have started not only from a certified A330 baseline, but a certified tanker baseline. The Voyager is different to the MRTT but it’s got similarities too,' Blundell said.
The Voyager has completed a large number of tests with an instrumented Tornado GR4 and flight trials with larger receivers and the Typhoon are scheduled to begin later this year.
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