RAF unveils largest ever aircraft

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The Independent Online

The RAF's largest ever aircraft was officially named Voyager today at a ceremony attended by the Defence Secretary.

The aircraft was flown into RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, ready for its first public appearance at this weekend's Royal International Air Tattoo.

The dual role air-to-air tanker and transport plane has a 60-metre wingspan and is nearly 60 metres long.

Voyager, which is able to carry almost 300 troops more than 6,000 miles, will replace the long-serving VC-10 and Tristar.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who attended today's naming ceremony, said: "I am delighted to see the new Royal Air Force Voyager aircraft formally presented to the public.

"This magnificent aircraft is the future for the RAF's air-to-air refuelling and passenger transport capability for the coming decades.

"Voyager, together with the C-17, C-130J and the A400M transport aircraft, will provide the RAF with a truly world class fleet of aircraft, underpinning the global reach that is vital to our operations."

The RAF has bought 14 of the aircraft under a 27-year £10.5 billion private finance initiative contract with the AirTanker consortium.

The service will provide training and maintenance, and new purpose-built buildings at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, the RAF's air transport hub.

The plane can carry out air-to-air refuelling of another aircraft with 100,000 litres of fuel - greater than two large petrol tankers.

The Ministry of Defence added it can refuel aircraft at a rate of 5,000 litres per minute compared with a garage forecourt petrol pump that delivers fuel at 40 litres per minute.

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, said: "As we have seen in Afghanistan and Libya, an effective air-to-air refuelling and transport fleet is an essential force multiplier in this era of expeditionary warfare.

"Voyager, when it enters service later this year, will excel in these roles by not only increasing our air-to-air refuelling capability but also by substantially improving our strategic airlift capacity.

"Voyager is the airborne part of a flexible and cost effective whole-service contract which will enable the rapid movement of personnel around the world and provide unprecedented global reach to our combat aircraft.

"We can be justifiably proud of this magnificent addition to the RAF's fleet, it will serve our armed forces well for many years to come."

The Royal International Air Tattoo is the world's largest air show and celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.