Visit to Royal Air Force Brize Norton

16 March 2023


A Once in a Lifetime Air to Air Refuelling Sortie over the North Sea to Witness Training of Fast Jets’

by Margaret Coates, Deputy Master

How fortunate we Plaisterers are to have as one of our Liverymen, Wing Commander Phil Foster (Fozzie), Deputy Commander Air Wing based at BZN, the hub for Air Tanker Services and home to the Voyager aircraft. Air Wing has been supporting #Exercise CobraWarrior2023 and members of the Worshipful Company of Plaisterers, together with the cadets and staff from 282 Squadron found themselves part of that exercise, as passengers in the Voyager (Tanker), as it refuelled fast jets (Typhoons and F18s) from the UK, Saudi Arabia and Finland, above the North Sea.

The day started early, 4.00am for the cadets and not much later for the Plaisterers, to make the rendezvous at BZN for 6.45am. Security checks and briefings followed before we were taken aboard the Multi Role AirTanker. What a huge, cavernous craft this is. Based on the civilian A330 Airbus, it provides operational flexibility to the RAF - refuelling fast jets; transporting troops, equipment and cargo; humanitarian operations. It has taken over the roles of the VC10 and TriStars.

The Voyager can carry 290 plus passengers and for this sortie lasting nearly five hours in duration, our group of 56 persons had plenty of comfortable seating and access to numerous windows to witness the refuelling. As well as being invited one by one to sit in the pilot’s cabin and listen to the conversations of the pilots carrying out what is clearly an inherently dangerous process.

What I was not expecting, nor will ever forget, was the sheer beauty of the process. In awe we watched what I can only describe as a choreographed ‘ballet in the skies’ The Tanker was placed in a circuit pattern over the North Sea, reeling out two hoses from either side of the plane, with a ‘basket’ at the end. Two jets flying in formation closed in on the Tanker. Jet 2 broke away leaving Jet 1 to gradually float towards the Tanker taking up a formation position to the rear of the Tanker, travelling at the same speed and altitude. A probe emerged from the jet which latched onto the basket. The jet was so close we could see the pilot. What seemed like an age, but could have only been minutes, the refuelling was complete and the jet’s probe detached itself from the basket and with right wing down the jet moved away, replaced by Jet 2. After refuelling, Jet 2 formed up again with Jet 1 and in formation flew up and away, to be replaced by another pair of jets. And this continued until the exercise was complete. Massively impressive.

This amazing experience was organised by Fozzie with clear Aims and Objectives:

• To foster the already close ties between 282 (East Ham) Air Cadets and our Worshipful Company

• To increase RAF recruitment and military awareness, particularly the work of the Air Mobility Force.

Everyone privileged to be there agreed it was MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

A big thank you to Fozzie and to Flight Officer David Chadwick, our host throughout the day and all the men and women of Air Wing who ensured our visit was such a success and whose professionalism and skills kept us safe and secure. To all the pilots we say a cobra only attacks under threat but its venom is deadly.