The largest RAF plane in history has touched down on British soil for the first time.
The Voyager, a new tanker and transport plane, is nearly 197ft long with a 197ft wingspan – twice the size of a Lancaster bomber.
It can carry a staggering 291 troops for more than 6,000 miles and refuel another aircraft in the air with 100,000 litres than fuel, more than the amount held by two large petrol tankers.
One of the planes – which are converted from Airbus A330-200 airliners – arrived at the Ministry of Defence’s airfield at Boscombe Down, Wilts., on Monday.
Experts there will conduct tests on the huge aircraft, which is set to come into service by the end of the year.
Peter Luff, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, said the plane could also refuel at a rate of 5,000 litres per minute, compared to a pump at a garage which delivers just 40 litres of fuel in a minute.
He said: ”The arrival of the first Voyager aircraft in the UK marks an important milestone in the process that will see the Royal Air Force equipped with the best available air-to-air refuelling capability, with the first due in service by the end of the year.
”Recent events in Libya and on-going requirement for air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan clearly demonstrate the essential role that air-to-air refuelling plays in getting our aircraft to where they are needed.”
The RAF are being provided with 14 Voyager aircraft under a 27-year £10.5 billion contract signed with the AirTanker consortium in 2008.
Each plane and its parts are manufactured and assembled in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
Two more Voyagers will be based at Boscombe Down in the coming months, where they will be subjected to an intensive testing programme that will continue into next year.
Air Vice Marshal Phil Osborn, Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, said he hoped trials would help the Voyagers quickly join the RAF fleet in action.
He said: ”Over the next few years the Voyager will join the versatile A400M transport, C-17 strategic airlifter and well-proven Hercules transport aircraft to form an RAF fleet that can handle any task that comes its way in the future.
”I look forward to a successful trials programme that will keep the aircraft on track for delivery at the earliest opportunity.”
The armed forces face huge budget cuts and job losses over the next five years – with the RAF set to losr 5,000 jobs, 1,020 by September.
Planes including the Harrier jump jet and Nimrod reconnaissance planes will also be scrapped and some air force bases will close.