RAF Tristar Out of Service

After 30 years of service the Tristar is now out of service with the RAF

The final sortie was on the 24th of March and 216 Squadron disbanded.

Last Tristar Sortie
Last Tristar Sortie

The Tristar fleet consisted of three sub types.

3x C.2 transport only, no tanking capabilities

4x KC.1 tankers with a mixed main deck and large cargo door, 133 seats and 8 pallet positions

2x K.1 as the KC.1 tankers but with no large cargo door on the main deck (passengers and baggage only) and thus unable to carry pallets

They were not new, converted by Marshall’s of Cambridge from aircraft obtained from PanAm (C2) and British Airways (KC.1 and K.1)

The VC10 went out of service in September 2013 and the tanking duties of both the VC10 and Tristar fleet are now being carried out by the seven aircraft currently in the Voyager fleet.

6 of the Voyagers are in RAF service with 10 and 101 Squadron and the final aircraft being used for personnel only flights. Of these 6, 2 are two point and 4 are 3 point capable.

As the Tristar went out of service Voyager only has full release to service for refuelling the Typhoon and Tornado and personnel flights.

Large aircraft like the C130J and E3-D Sentry use the centreline hose or Fuselage Refuelling Unit (FRU) and on the same day that Tristar went of service, Release to Service for the FRU was granted.

The first refuelling from the FRU took place a few days later, a C130 Hercules shown below.

Voyager Hercules

The ninth aircraft to be delivered will complete the core fleet and fitted with an enhanced defensive aids system (DAS) that will then be retrofitted to the existing aircraft. The remaining five aircraft will be the swing fleet, those that are supposed to subsidise the running costs by being used by others, negotiations, it is said, are still ongoing with regards to what form this will actually take.

It is also not clear whether the swing fleet will be fitted with the same DAS as the core fleet.

When you look at the numbers of aircraft, those with DAS, those that are capable of three point refuelling (i.e. large aircraft) and that one of the fleet is still flying on the civilian aircraft register it really is a sad state of affairs, no matter how genuinely more capable than either the VC10 or Tristar a Voyager is.

Read more about the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft below

[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2011/07/the-pros-and-7-cons-of-an-raf-voyager/”]





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April 6, 2014 7:06 pm

As someone who has not only flown on Tristars and VC-10’s, but also worked on them for the last 10 years, I’m happy to see the back of these jets.

The KC-30 (I hate the Voyager name) is a great bit of kit, however it’s not perfect, I still think it’s a massive leap over what we had previously.

However I agree with many of the commentators on this site that the PFI was overall a terrible deal for the RAF and the MOD as a whole.

Hopefully over the next few years the MOD can see some sense (and find some cash down the back of a sofa) and get elements of the contract re-written. The crucial area I think would be for us to able to use the A400M for re-fueling too.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
April 6, 2014 7:28 pm

Is it just me or should all of the voyagers have both DAS and FRU, otherwise there may be gaps in coverage.

April 6, 2014 8:01 pm

Declare a requirement to aar helicopters which means there is no other option but to train a400m for the aar role. We could even require the special aar pods the vc10 sometimes used and have them on a400m.

The Other Chris
April 6, 2014 8:13 pm


Oooh! Devious! I like it!

April 6, 2014 9:33 pm

Makes a lot of sense and I don’t think its devious I believe there is definitely a requirement!

April 6, 2014 10:00 pm

Are 9 permanent Voyagers and 5 surge air-frames going to be enough? It’s the same old story of enhanced capabilities coming at the expense of numbers, fine if fewer units can provide the same or a better service and cover all the bases.

Also silly little detail but why split 9 air-frames between 2 squadrons? Is it a case of 1 focusing on UK based, internal stuff and the other on out of area, air-bridge stuff?

April 6, 2014 10:30 pm

TOC thru deck cruiser and all :) it’s the only way

Challenger they are operated as a pulled resource with multiple crews per platform mixed crews fly both.

Is it enough don’t know prob not remember uk qra and Falklands qra demand permanent tanker support. But then fast jet numbers are much smaller and the strategic aircraft much bigger and much longer ranged. A way for the 5 other to remain as tankers but supporting other countries in a pooled arrangement must be pushed.

RP Defense
April 6, 2014 11:00 pm

Private joke : Pictures of Air-to-Air Refuelling Training EART 2014


Sorry, couldn’t resist. Won’t do it again, but I shall come back. ;-)

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
April 7, 2014 9:48 am


Was this a case of Gordon bloody Brown wanting to keep the costs of AAR replacement off his balance sheet for the year? I hate PFI in any form for the military.

The elements of the contract which state that we can use no other provider for AAR or the A400 should be torn up. Just who in the MoD signed this? They should be on national TV being tried for treason and waste of taxpayer funds. No private company should be allowed to make conditions like this on the defence of the realm. As usual though, faceless and nameless individuals.

Getting them unable to enter conflict zones due to lack of a DAS and using the remaining 5 for other users thus trashing their airframe hours is a great bit of work too.

As another commentator above said, they may be a step change from VC10 Tristar, but at what cost and so few, balanced at least by having a 22 Squadron Fast Jet fleet reduced to 7. 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rant over. I hate the FSTA project as much as buying the Wildcat for the AAC.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
April 7, 2014 10:04 am

@Daniele Mandelli – It was indeed Gordon Brown, who I believe was aided and abetted by his favourite Banker Fred “the Shred” Goodwin…

Sufficient reason in my view to never consider voting Labour again…although that throws up the difficulty of which disgusting group of reptilian poltroons are actually any better than the others…and before anybody comes up with the obvious let me point out that although Farage seems a decent chap and an ornament to any proper local his party are mostly as mad as a box of frogs…the kind who ooze hallucinogenic slime…who have been licking each other…


Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
April 7, 2014 11:07 am

I agree GNB, your outlook on the UK political class really is Gloomy.

Sadly I and my family are lifelong Tory voters, and I voted Tory to stop Labour in its Defence and Immigration policies, along with the rest of the HR PC madness wrecking this country.

I was wrong. Nothing has changed and it got worse.

Don’t even mention the Lib Dems. I’d sooner vote Labour!

April 7, 2014 12:09 pm

GNB, Daniele – Time for a TD coup of UKIP? We could call it UKTDP (UK Think Defence Party? UK Totally Democratic Party? UK Terribly Decent People? Probably no longer UK Toddle Down the Pub though). I fear some policies might rival Mr Clarkson’s for – um – robustness…

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
April 7, 2014 1:24 pm


Love it. Especially your first stab. UK Think Defence Party.

April 7, 2014 2:37 pm


“I fear some policies might rival Mr Clarkson’s for – um – robustness…”

And as the man himself has pointed out, some of his policies make no sense at all…..like demanding the green belt be kept green whilst also demanding utterly brilliant major transport routes to and from the green belt….thus necessitating the demolition of a huge slab of the green belt….

….the difference – as you’ve rightly alluded to – is that JC has a ‘shtick’ and sticks to it…..sadly the politicians seem to believe what they are saying……..

April 7, 2014 2:55 pm

“No private company should be allowed to make conditions like this on the defence of the realm. As usual though, faceless and nameless individuals.”

Or equally the Armed Forces and MoD played the usual procurement game with HM Treasury….

Round 1: HM Forces….”We need ‘X’…it’s super-duper, does everything and we want ‘Z’ of them….”

Round 2: MoD “Well you see your Generalness, it’s a bit like this….you can have a super duper ‘X’ but you’ll only get 1 or 2 or not quite as good ‘Y’ but you’ll get more of them….now what do you prefer….”
Round 3: HM Forces, “Well at a push…..Y but with go faster stripes and the optional sound system….”
Round 4: MoD, “Respectfully your Generalness, if you want the stripes and sound system….well….you’ll need the upgraded speakers as well…..”
Round 5: HM Forces, “Fair enough, get the speakers in….”

Round 6: MoD to Manufacturer: “That’s it, the final spec….tah dah……”
Round 7: Manufacturer to MoD: “Are you sure…..positive?”
Round 8: Nods all around, a brief period of silence and then his Generalness, “Well, actually, can we have the neon lights thing as well…..it’ll look cool as ‘f’…..”
Round 9: More nods of agreement and then the bill is presented.

Round 10: MoD, “Hellfire….we’ll never get this past the Treasury….tell his Generalness to write to the Telegraph and explain why this kit is so important…and while he’s doing that, I’m just going to use my pen to adjust the invoice and move the decimal place a bit….” (Much careful steady handwork follows and the ink is blown dry).

Round 11: MoD rocks up at the Grand Edifice that is Her Britannic Majesty’s Treasury.
Round 12: MoD ordered to never darken the front steps again and to go an use the Tradesman’s Entrance and generally smarten themselves up a bit.

Round 13: After being admitted, the MoD arrives at the ‘Office’ and after much nervous shoe polishing on the back of the legs, enters and presents the Invoice.
Round 14: Total silence as HM Treasury casts a gimlet eye over the numbers and the figure at the bottom. Mutters in an icy tone to MoD, “Well okay then…..£17.98 for a top of the range ‘Y’ and not a penny more….y’here….”

Round 15: MoD rushes from HM Treasury armed with postal order, gambling that by the time HM Treasury realises that the postal order is also going to be edited with an decent ink pen, HM Treasury will not be able to do anything about it now and next years budget….is well, an entire year away.
Round 16: MoD stops off at office, carefully re-inks the amount, blows the ink dry and then presents to his Generalness to give to his chums at the manufacturers.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
April 7, 2014 7:02 pm

@GNB “although Farage seems a decent chap and an ornament to any proper local his party are mostly as mad as a box of frogs…the kind who ooze hallucinogenic slime…who have been licking each other…”

That is true but it is true of all the others as well. When you get a one-topic monomaniac (e.g. ‘No A-Road through Splatttown’) standing as an independent then they seem stupid but all of the ‘main stream’ party candidates are just as obsessive.

They might actually care about two or three things (but the independent candidate probably does too) but beyond that they are uninformed & uninterested. They only seem at all balanced because they have the party label and (hopefully having memorised the party lines) can makes some coherent sounds about most topics that are thrown at them. If you could stick to one topic (not one of their two or three hobby-horses) for 10 minutes they they will come unstuck and probably contradict their party manifest & themselves.

This is because they are people and all people are limited in what they know and care about.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
April 7, 2014 7:14 pm

@Daniele Mandelli “Was this a case of Gordon bloody Brown wanting to keep the costs of AAR replacement off his balance sheet for the year? I hate PFI in any form for the military.”

Not just this by a long chalk. At the time of the 2010 election, the total amount used in bailing out the banks was around £6,000 per household. Given that the shares would be worth something the final bill was likely to be a great deal less than that.

At the same time:
i) The total national debt was c. £30,000 per household.
ii) The total amount due on PFI contracts was also c. £30,000 per household.
iii) The total liability of unfunded public-sector pensions was also c. £30,000 per household.

(i) and, especially, (iii) increased hugely under Brown’s ‘stewardship’, so there is good reason why he is referred to in some circles as the Prime Mentalist

(iii) also increased considerably (c. 1 million extra public sectors employees in 2010 compared to 1997) but nowhere nearly as much. Also that figure is total liabilities stretching out over the best part of a century and so there is time & scope to deal with it.

April 7, 2014 9:25 pm

@Daniele Mandelli Are you the same person as me. We BOTH hate FSTA and Wildcat for that Army

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
April 7, 2014 9:39 pm

Happy with Wildcat for the RN only.

Could have found far better for much less and got more of them too.
Maybe RAF politics got in the way.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
April 8, 2014 1:09 pm

@TED @Daniele Mandelli, I have read similar comments about the (lack of) suitability of the Wildcat for the Army but I cannot recall seeing any reasons given.

Can you please enlighten me?

April 8, 2014 1:54 pm

And what would you buy in Wildcat’s place?

April 8, 2014 3:56 pm

@. Mark

There is nothing in the FSTA contract that prevents us kitting out the A400M for AAR we just have to pay a penalty if we use them which is probably not such a big deal of the s**t hits the fan.

I would like to see us develop a Helo AAR capability along side a CSAR capability with the Merlin as the Italians have done.

April 8, 2014 4:12 pm

CH47 with AAR would be useful.

April 8, 2014 4:37 pm


I think it maybe even more of a grey area than that. There is nothing to say we can’t use a400ms for aar we just have to use airtanker first. They can’t refuel helicopters so it keeps a set of crews trained on an alternative platform which keeps everyone happy improves redundancy and as you say could have benefit to csar or sf chinooks like x said.