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Many activities are open to cadets within the Air Training Corps, some are come up quite frequent but others are more sought after. One of those activities is an Air Opportunity Flight. These flights can be flying in anything from a Hercules to a Tristar or VC10 transports. I have been lucky enough to get on 2 of these flights, the first was when I was on a Work Experience week at RAF Brize Norton, the second was a flight to Munster in Germany on a trooping flight. Both of these flights were on VC10 transports.

My first flight was on a VC10 of 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, 101 is a dedicated air to air refuelling squadron. They fly 2 different variants of the VC10, both derived from airframes that are over 40 years old. The VC10 has 3 hose and drogue refuelling points, 2 in wing mounted pods and the other in a special designed section in the rear underside of the fuselage. The 2 wing pods are used to refuel fast jets and the centre rear pod is used to refuel the RAF and other NATO air forces big jets.

I went over to 101 squadron where I joined the crew of the flight, the first thing I noticed was the age of the jet. I had a look in the cockpit, in most aircraft you will see only 2 people in there, on the VC10 there are 4! The crew consists of 2 pilots, an Air Engineer and a Navigator. Due to age of the jet it does not have sophisticated computer systems so its cockpit is full of old analogue gauges and displays. It has to be said that even though the jets are old, the RAF does its best to keep them running in top condition and they are defiantly the most beautiful and elegant aircraft ever to fly.

In these shots of the cockpit you can see all the old dials and gauges giving away this aircrafts age. From left to right you can see the pilots seat, the Air Engineers position and the Navigators position

As we took off from Brize, I noticed how noisy the old jets engines were, we took off to the West then turned out towards the North Sea where we would join one of the Air to Air Refuelling Areas over the North Sea to await our "Trade". I watched the crew extend the hoses as we reached 21,000 feet after that it was a case of sit and wait.

After about 15 minutes our first receiver arrived, a group of 4 Tornado bombers arrived on our right wing tip and were given clearance to "plug in" to the baskets we were trailing. It was an awesome sight to watch these fast jets just feet away from the aircraft and me. They all took there turn, 2 at a time to take on fuel.

In this photo you can see how close the Tornados get to the aircraft and the VC10's engine which are mounted on the rear fuselage.

After the Tornados left us then it was the turn of the Harriers, I lost count of howmany turned up to tank on fuel, they just kept appearing on the wings and plugging into the VC10, and in typical Harrier pilot fashion they just smoothly flew up to jet plugged in and sat there waving at us!

In this photo you can see how the Harriers form on the wings before getting permission to move on to one of the 2 wing mounted refuelling points. Again you can see there proximity to the VC10

After a flight of Tornado F3 fighters refuelled it was time for the main event, another 101 Sqn VC10 appeared on our left wing and moved alongside us, he slotted in front of us with a distance of only a couple of metres. Never before had I seen 2 jets so close to each other. The pilots of my aircraft were going to refuel off the VC10 in front of us, they asked me to sit in the jump seat, the seat behind the pilot. To be sat only a few metres away from 2 big jets at 21,000 feet whilst one placed a probe only a foot wide into a basket only 1 and a half feet wide was a frightening and exciting experience.

The second VC10 from 101 Sqn, RAF Brize Norton, moves in alongside to give us fuel

The crew were training to take on fuel from another VC10, they missed the basket a couple of times and the VC10 in front got a bit closer as we missed it, not to mention the fact that the basket was knocking against the front of the aircraft!

In this photo that I took from my seat you can just see the outline of the other VC10 in the front window.

The experience of taking part in a 5 hour refuelling flight is one I will never forget and its something that every cadet should try and aim to get on, it was a mix of excitement and fear at times but as always, it was carried out with great accuracy and professionalism by the RAF crews of all the different aircraft.


Article Submitted by:-
CWO Ben Pinner - 121 (Nuneaton) Squadron
19 Apr 02


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