101 Squadron Delivering Gas
'Spring Flag 2007'
May 7-27, 2007
|For exercise 'Spring Flag 2007' a Royal Air Force BAC VC-10 C.1K (XV104) of 101 Squadron and based at RAF Brize Norton was operating out of Cagliari-Elmas airport. Elmas is just a few miles south of the exercises main operating base of Decimomannu.|
The deployment of the VC-10 had been planned a month earlier to supplement the Aeronautica Militare Italiana's own Boeing 707-373C air refuelling tankers of 14° Stormo, which were operating out of Pratica di Mare. Also a United States Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker of 100ARW from RAF Mildenhall was also on call from Trapani air base in Sicily. The VC-10s deployment was made on behalf of the still developing 'European Airlift Command' (EAC). This is where EAC members share resources for greater efficiency. By gaining hours or credit for missions undertaken, member states can cash in their credits to take advantage of another state's assets as and when required.
Following an Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) mission earlier in the day Flt. Lt. Paul Summers (Captain) and Flt. Lt. Phil Hird (Co-pilot) flew with their crew to Sardinia on Tuesday May 22. Accompanying the two pilots were, a navigator, flight engineer and load master. To keep the aircraft serviceable in the charge of the Engineering Executive were; a ground engineer and four other engineers. A package of spares, such as radios and engine parts, essential to keep the aircraft operational, were carried in the hold.
The first AAR mission for the VC-10 was scheduled for May 24, day four of 'Spring Flag'. This was to be a short mission, to dispense 9,000 Kgs of Jet-A fuel to two AMI Tornado and two AMX. Ready to go and just seconds before taxiing, the Air Traffic Controller announced, "your mission has been cancelled." With the poor sea state and high crosswinds, it was deemed too hazardous to continue with the afternoon's missions and flying was suspended. Last year at 'Spring Flag' two AMI F-16s collided and both pilots, who were forced to eject, were rescued from the sea.
On day five, and for the last of its daylight missions, the VC-10 (callsign 'Exxon 20') was loaded up with additional fuel for the scheduled four hour sortie. We were in position at 17,000 feet (5,182m) just 30 minutes after take-off, in Air-to-Air Refuelling Area (AARA) known as 'Sardo' which is north east of Sardinia. The refuelling 'trade' were two pairs (callsigns 'Legion' and 'Felix') of Tornado IDS of 6° from Ghedi and 36° Stormo from Gioia del Colle. The Tornados were flying with two 51° Stormo AMX (callsign 'Phoenix') on a mission to attack Trapani air base on Sicily. All six aircraft arrived in a short space of time, but were soon topped up with gas and on their way to the target. After a short transit south to AARA 'Mukka', VC-10 'Exxon 20' and descended to 14,000 feet (4267m) and were awaiting six AMX of 32° Stormo from Amendola and 51° Stormo from Istrana, using callsigns 'Fulmen' and 'Phoenix'. The three pairs of AMX were returning from the raid on Trapani and following refuelling elected to escort us home.
The 101 Squadron VC-10 was tasked with two night sorties in the final week of the exercise. Both missions were three hours in duration, with a total give of just 10,000 Kgs to two AMI Tornado on both occasions. Speaking to the crew, all sorties were successful apart from a problem with a switch on one of the two tow lines on mission two. There were some language barriers with the local Air Traffic Control, which made it quite hard to co-ordinate all of the aircraft around their tanker to avoid possible collisions from occurring.
|Left to right: Some of the VC-10 crew in action during the air to air refuelling sorties.|
|The specially marked 25th anniversary 154° Gruppo of 6° Stormo Tornado IDS (MM7006 '6-31') and 156° Gruppo of 36° Stormo Tornado IDS (MM7065 '36-43') were two of four AMI Tornado refuelled for the simulated attack on Trapani.|
More specially marked aircraft participating in the 'Spring Flag' exercise.
Left to right: AMX (serial MM7133 and coded '51-32') of 132° Gruppo of 51° Stormo from Istrana (Italian Air Force) over Sardinia during exercise 'Spring Flag'. During the two week day and night exercise AMX from 32° and 51° Stormo (Amendola and Istrana) flew combined sorties.
A 32° Stormo AMX (MM7147 coded '32-01') from Amendola has been painted to represent a Marchetti SM.79 torpedo bomber as flown by decorated pilot Capt. Armando Boetto when with 32° Stormo. The authentic World War Two mottled green camouflage has replaced the normal grey of the wing man.
|'40 Years of RAF Service 1966-2006'|
The RAF celebrated 40 years of service of the VC-10 in July 2006. 101 Squadron is now the only squadron operating the VC-10, since 10 Squadron disbanded in October 2005. 101 Squadron has ten of the C.1K version, which had previously been operating with 10 Squadron. They also have four K.3 and two K.4 variants still in service. The VC-10s operate alongside 216 Squadron with their Lockheed Tristars. To commemorate the 40th anniversary in July 2006, VC-10 C.1K (XV104) was painted with a special red tail and inscribed '40 Years of RAF Service 1966-2006'. This was the actual aircraft deployed to 'Spring Flag' but has since gone through a major service and has been totally repainted in a standard RAF dark grey scheme.
The C.1s were delivered to 10 Squadron from July 1966 to August 1968 to fulfil the role of transporting military personnel and VIP's to locations around the world. They can also perform Aero-medical Evacuation duties as and when required, and then carry up to 76 stretchers with six medical attendants. In addition to the crew of four, the C.1 can carry 150 passengers with six medical attendants. It has an unrefuelled range of over 3,600 miles (5793 Km). The VC-10 has an impressive maximum level speed of Mach 0.86 and a maximum cruising speed of 568 mph (914 kph).
From 1991 to 1996 Flight Refuelling converted the C.1s to C.1K standard to enable them to air to air refuel. Two Mk.32 wing mounted refuelling pods with an under fuselage CCTV camera, were the principal modifications carried out. Without any extra fuel tanks installed, the aircraft continued to have the same capabilities as before but only air to air refuelled when transporting passengers over long distances. 101 Squadron, with 216 Squadron's Tristars, is responsible for all the air to air refuelling of Britain's fighters, throughout the UK Air Defence Region and on exercises around the world. A VC-10 is on permanent standby at Brize Norton and can take to the air in just 15 minutes. The VC-10 is expected to serve with the RAF for a good many more years to come.
Left: VC-10 C.1K (XV104) at Cagliari-Elmas an hour before its first AAR sortie. As part of its recent major service it has been restored to an all grey paint scheme.