Coachlines - June 2024

28.06.24 Liveryman Peter Dias

Airborne with the RAF

On Friday 31st May 11 lucky Coachmakers who were picked out of the ‘hat’ travelled to RAF Brize Norton on a lovely sunny day to witness the skill of the pilots in one of our affiliated services. Of the 11, nine were to board the Voyager A330 which is the RAF’s sole air-to-air refuelling tanker and also operates as a strategic air transport. We were joined by 15 other Livery Companies from the City of London, all proud of their affiliation to the services. The RAF is very appreciative of the relationship it has with the Livery Companies, and the day was a way of saying ‘thank you’ to us all.

From left: Max Izen, Jeff Stow, Vivian Bush, Philip Strickland, Bridget Donaldson, Peter Dias, Alexander Wrighton, Kevin Timms and Andrew Bryson

We were met at the agreed meeting area by Flt Lt Stirling and Sgt Harris who ticked off our names and loaded us onto coaches to go to the terminal. The party of visitors was split into two groups: one was to board the Airbus A330 Voyager, a Multi Role Tank Transport aircraft, and the remaining visitors the Atlas A400 Technical Air Lift aircraft. Both aircraft have RAF Brize Norton as their base of operations. Brize Norton now has more than 6,000 service personnel plus 300 civilian staff and 1,200 contractors, making it the largest RAF base in the UK.

It was an early start, necessary for the number of people to process and get booked in to either the Voyager or the A400. The Voyager we were told would be flying to the North Sea level with the Norfolk coast to refuel Typhoons and the A400 would be carrying out a low flying exercise in the Lake District.

We arrived at the terminal, and it was just like going on a commercial airline, checking in using our passports and receiving a boarding pass. We were told to bring our passports in case we had to land elsewhere if the weather deteriorated during the day, but all was well. Passing through security in the normal fashion, we boarded the Voyager which can be used as a transport plane carrying a maximum of 291 people. It is a huge aircraft which easily swallowed up the 150+ passengers.

Two of our colleagues, Christopher Mann and Callum Parker, were allocated to the Atlas A400 and after their trip to the Lake District joined the Voyager later in the afternoon with another A400.

Callum Parker ready to board the A400

Once on board we very quickly rose to 14,000 feet and flew at a ground speed of 687mph over the country and out to the North Sea. Once it was in position it maintained a continuous loop and we waited for the first Typhoons to arrive. In the meantime, Captain Mark Scott deployed the two large and incredibly long fuel lines which are sited on either side of the aircraft with funnel shaped ends in which the Typhoon pilot has to connect using the refuelling nozzle on the aircraft and by matching the speed of Voyager. Our Captain provided a commentary each time the Typhoons approached to refuel, letting us know which side they were approaching.

We were all glued to the windows on both sides of the aircraft trying to get the best picture possible and at the same time marvelling at the artistry need by both the pilots at the controls of the Voyager and Typhoons in order to link up with the fuel pipe at more than 600mph. Much more difficult than filling your car!

Within five or six minutes the Typhoon was full, and the pilot released the nozzle and flew off in dramatic fashion. Mark then remarked they were like bees round a honey pot as three Typhoons came along at the same time and waited abreast until one after the other, they refuelled. We were so very lucky that the jet fighters kept up the refuelling exercise giving us so many opportunities to see the skill required to operate at this level.

So many pictures were taken that day and I have included as many as possible to reflect what a superb opportunity this was for all.

I know the Clerk was concerned about lunch, but there was no need as the RAF looked after us very well with a mixture of sandwiches and a lunch box for all – no alcohol as per MOD’s regulations.

During the seven hours we were flying we were able to speak to the air crew about the roles they play in the RAF. We were also able to visit the crew on the flight deck and view the operations taking place. Bridget, an award winner of the Victor Gauntlett Scholarship in 2021 had the unique opportunity to talk to the RAF personnel about the service and flying in general.

Later in the day we were joined by not one but two Atlas A400s, Dreadnought and Blenheim, flying either side of the Voyager with the Typhoons close by. Apparently, this a rare sight we were told by Mark. A first for him in fact. We remained up in the air for a further hour as the reason for the close formation was practise for the fly past for the King’s birthday celebrations later this month. A special treat for us as it allowed us further time in the air with the RAF.

This was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I will never forget. This was echoed by other members of our party. Bridget Donaldson said: “This was such an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience to partake in; both the King’s Birthday flypast preparation and a Typhoon refuelling exercise. I had a brilliant day meeting the Voyager crew and members of other Livery Companies who were bounding with excitement and enthusiasm. A truly memorable event.”

Callum Parker on the A400 said: “I had an absolute blast flying onboard the RAF A400M Atlas. I witnessed incredible formation flying with Typhoons, a Voyager and another Atlas aircraft. The highlight for me was flying down Lake Windermere with the rear cargo ramp open! I’m grateful to the Coachmakers and the RAF for arranging this and giving me the opportunity to experience it.”

Christopher Mann also on the A400 remarked: “A truly memorable day, I felt privileged to be part of it and my many thanks to all who made it possible.”

Thank you to the Master, Clerk and Assistant Clerk for arranging this for us all.