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The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has successfully completed an air-to-air refuelling flight with one of its Voyager KC2 tanker aircraft powered by an approximately 43% blend of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 17 April 2023.

Flying from RAF Brize Norton, over the North Sea and via Farnborough on its return home, the Voyager aircraft also undertook air-to-air refuelling with Typhoons as part of planned training, the MoD said.

Made from waste-based sustainable feedstocks, such as used cooking oil, SAF reduces lifecycle carbon emissions by up to 80% compared to traditional jet fuel and is key to reducing the RAF’s reliance on global supply chains and fossil fuels while improving operational resilience, the MoD added.

An RAF Typhoon from 12 Squadron, RAF Coningsby, refuels from a RAF Voyager tanker powered by an approximately 43% blend of sustainable aviation fuel. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

An RAF Voyager, the military variant of an Airbus A330 used for air-to-air refuelling and strategic airlift missions, has already flown using 100% SAF. This flight, which took place on 15 November 2022 over Oxfordshire, was a joint endeavour between the RAF, the MoD’s Defence Equipment & Support organisation and industry partners Airbus, AirTanker and Rolls-Royce, with the fuel sourced by International Airlines Group (IAG) and supplied by Air bp.

Supporting the RAF’s ambitions to be Net Zero by 2040, the Voyager flight was part of an existing task from the Chief of the Air Staff to gather the required data to inform the longer-term transition away from fossil fuels.

The RAF has identified that using SAF and alternative aviation fuels will be critical for the future operational capability of the RAF and wider military aviation.

“The UK’s SAF programme is already one of the most comprehensive in the world and supports our vision to set the UK up to be a global leader in the development, production, and use of SAF,” said the MoD in its 17 April press release.

Defence Minister Baroness Goldie was quoted in the release as saying, “Greater use of alternative and sustainable fuel can only lead to positive outcomes for Defence, the United Kingdom, and our collective endeavour against climate change.

“This is not an easy undertaking by the RAF, but time and again we see that by working collaboratively with our partners across industry we can achieve crucial transformation.”

Peter Felstead