RAF Air Mobility Livery Engagement Event

Following a pleasurable but intensive “pre the day” team building session in the Three Horseshoes Witney, 12 lucky Paviors gathered close to RAF Brize Norton at 06:30 on May 31st.

We waited like excited schoolchildren, on our first foray from the fold, for our names to be called as we entered the transfer coaches. Arriving at the passenger terminal we were allocated one of two planes – a Voyager or an A400M – and passed into the departure lounge.

The Airbus Voyager looked for all intents and purposes like a regular passenger jet, the inside was just like any normal carrier albeit with surprisingly generous leg and shoulder room. The 8 selected Paviors joined with approximately 120 other City Liverymen and Air Cadets and we were soon airborne. However this aircraft was dual purpose, not only could it transfer military personnel around the globe, but it also took off carrying just over 100 tonnes of aviation fuel!

The Voyager headed out over The Wash into the North Sea and began elongated ovals at 16,000 feet/400mph and soon the fun began. The flight team deployed two of the three refuelling hoses which were situated roughly at the mid point of the wings and we didn’t have long to wait before suddenly the Voyager was joined by a Typhoon fighter off the left wing.

Standard proceed calls for the jets requesting a refuel to sit off the left wing and deploy their receiving pod, prior to being allocated a hook up point.

Several things struck the writer at this point. First how suddenly the fast jets appeared and second how immediately they took up a standard position and harmonised with the Voyager’s flight characteristics. It was all calm, smooth and great skill made it seem effortless. The receiving pilot manoeuvred his fast jet up to the trailing nozzle and quickly engaged and started drawing down fuel.Three to four minutes is all that is required to download a standard draw off of 5 tonnes. All this achieved with the receiving Typhoon flying in the Voyagers engine jet-wash and sometimes around “corners”. When refuelled and disconnected the procedure is for the pilot to take his aeroplane to the right hand side of the Voyager and await his buddy before pairing up and departing together.

The Typhoons in flight are a thing of absolute beauty, larger than anticipated, but sleek and purposeful. The cloud base was probably 4,000 feet below the Voyager and in the sun against that fluffy grey background the Typhoon was well camouflaged. They appeared as if by magic and left swiftly with a noticeable roar as they returned to operational speed.

Even our RAF hosts were excited when unit after unit joined us and sipped thirstily for fuel. The Flight Lieutenant beamed proudly that it was like “bees around a honeypot”. Soon there were Typhoons on both refuelling lines and others stacked up in formation off the left wing. At one point there were four Typhoons lined up in perfect formation patiently waiting their turn.

It was clear that the various Livery Company Affiliate squadrons all wanted to show themselves and acknowledge the bond, our 29 Squadron being no exception. In a two hour period we witnessed more than 15 Typhoons being refuelled. Sadly for various reasons the flight was unable to joined by the new F35Bs from Marham but that probably saved us a severe lecture on the contents of The Official Secrets Act.

Shortly after lunch the Voyager was joined in formation by the A400M containing our fellow Liverymen who had had a flight up country. The A400M is a hefty turbo prop that is a real work horse complete with rear access ramp.

Our colleagues later regaled us with tales of the ramp being lowered over the Lake District and how they peered out through the cargo netting under the watchful eye of the Load Master.

Then just to keep the days uniqueness flowing we were treated to a first when another A400M joined the Voyager and for the first time two A400Ms flew in close formation with the Voyager. At times to this writer, close seemed too close, particularly when we went around the ends of the oval flight path, but it was some sight having these workhorses tucked in half behind each wing.

Finally the Captain of the A400M requested that he be allowed to practice close formation flying to the rear of the Voyager in readiness for the up coming opportunity at The Kings Birthday Flypass during the Trooping of the Colour (June 15th). For an extended period the Voyager descended to 12,000 feet and deliberately slowed to 300mph just above the clouds to simulate choppy air.

After a while the Voyager broke out of the now standard oval and began a variety of turning manoeuvres. All the time the A400M followed just behind and below the Voyagers tail, affording the Paviors therein wonderful views over the pilots shoulders. Thereafter both aeroplanes returned safely to base and excited Paviors could
swop pictures and stories with their colleagues. On reflection, a wonderful and rewarding day, well judged and managed by our hosts at the RAF, who deserve a huge vote of thanks. At the outset in order to gather all the Livery Company members together, the RAF had provided a “what3words” location point for the car parking – the listed words were obviously random and did no service to the Squadrons involved – they should actually have been POWER PURPOSE PROFESSIONAL because that is what we saw and experienced.


CDP 4th June 2024