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RAF Successfully Conducts Air-to-Air Refueling Over the South Atlantic for the First Time

Refueling an aircraft in mid-air is not at all easy. In fact, it’s one of the most complex maneuvers for pilots. This is why every milestone on the path toward regular air-to-air refueling operations is a victory. The latest one to be celebrated by the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) is a successful operation over the South Atlantic Ocean.
Voyager refueled the Atlas C1 over the South Atlantic Ocean for the first time 7 photos
RAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first timeRAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first timeRAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first timeRAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first timeRAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first timeRAF's Voyager Refueled the Atlas C1 over the ocean for the first time
An RAF Voyager met an Atlas C1 (A400M) transport aircraft in the air and refueled it over the ocean while being more than 900 nautical miles (1,035 miles/1,666 km) away from the nearest land.

The Voyager was coming from the Mount Pleasant Complex, which is the main RAF military base on the Falkland Islands, while the Atlas had departed from RAF Brize Norton, headed to the Falklands. The 2 aircraft met 900 nautical miles away southwest of Ascension Island and 2,600 nautical miles (2,992 miles/4,815 km) northeast of the Mount Pleasant Airfield.

The captain of the Atlas, the 30 Squadron Leader, had to make sure that Atlas stayed in close formation with the Voyager while the tanker’s captain carried out the delicate refueling procedure.

It uses something called “the probe-and-drogue system,” with the probe extending from the receiver aircraft and the drogue extending from the tanker. The probe must then be carefully docked right into the drogue’s basket.

This marks the first time that the Atlas was refueled operationally over the South Atlantic and, according to the Voyager’s Mission Systems Operator, doing that above the ocean was unlike anything he had experienced before, even after practicing the maneuver in the simulator.

Voyager is currently RAF’s only air-to-air refueling (AAR) tanker that also doubles as a transport aircraft. This capability was initially aimed at fast jets to enhance their endurance, but the tanker is gradually extending the range of larger cargo aircraft, too, such as the Atlas C1.

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