The RAF goes green

With a 90min Airbus Voyager test flight out of its Brize Norton base, it seems the Royal Air Force has chalked up a world first.

On 16 November the Voyager, the military tanker/transport version of the A330-200, took off with its Rolls-Royce Trent 772B turbofans burning pure, 100% sustainable aviation fuel. Many airlines have operated different types with a mix of standard aviation fuel and SAF – usually less than 50% – but no-one is believed to have used pure SAF before.

On board were an RAF crew supplemented by representatives from the SAF manufacturer BP, Airbus Defence & Space, and engine manufacturer R-R. FlightGlobal has reported a statement by Airbus experimental test pilot Jesus Ruiz, who was the aircraft commander for the test: “From the crew perspective, the SAF operation was ‘transparent’, meaning that no differences were observed operationally. The test plan was exhaustive and robust and has allowed us to compare SAF with JET [A]1.”

RAF Voyager tanker/transport (Crown Copyright)

BP crafted the SAF from used cooking oil. This being a flight operated in British airspace by my alma mater, the RAF, I have an unaccountably earnest desire to learn that the cooking oil came from the deep-fryers of English Fish & Chip bars. Given that Capt Ruiz confirms the flight went without a hitch, it seems BP successfully ensured the fuel was not contaminated with salt and vinegar!

Joking aside, this is a very welcome achievement, as is the RAF’s stated objective for sustainable flight. Chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston says the RAF is committed to achieving net-zero air operations by 2040, a decade ahead of the present global aviation target.