The moment the tyre of a Royal Air Force air-to-air refuelling aircraft blew-out during take-off has been captured on camera.
The aircraft, known as a Voyager, is supporting UK and US fighter jets on an aerial combat exercise, in the US, known as exercise Red Flag.
Whilst hurtling along the runway in Nevada with a take-off speed of around 160 mph, the tyre of the 204-tonne jet, laden with 80 tonnes of fuel, failed. The crew felt some minor vibrations early on, as per a routine take-off, but were unaware of the seriousness of the incident and the take-off continued safely.
Once airborne, the tyre pressure sensors showed faults with two of the tyres. The aircraft’s exterior inspection cameras were used to confirm the extent of the damage.
The crew also contacted a US Air Force F-16 fighter jet on the exercise, to fly alongside and conduct a visual inspection. The Voyager captain and his crew then assessed the available information on the damage and planned how they could safely land the aircraft.
The Voyager multirole tanker transport aircraft can refuel other aircraft in the air whilst also carrying passengers, on this occasion there were a small number of UK and allied passengers on board, which the cabin crew ensured were informed of what was going on.
“This was my first flight in charge of the cabin with passengers onboard. It was a shock to learn that the tyre had burst, but my training kicked in and I worked with the pilots and other crew to keep the passengers updated and reassure them.”
Corporal Jaz Lawton
To minimise the risks of landing with damaged wheels, the crew extended their sortie to reduce the amount of fuel and therefore, weight on board. This also provided time for all the fighter jets to return to base before the Voyager, as it was possible that it might damage the runway when it landed.
The crew contacted the US Air Force firefighters at Nellis Air Force Base to ensure they were prepared for their recovery ready and positioned alongside the runway for their landing. The skilled pilots managed to land the aircraft safely and the firefighters quickly inspected the aircraft to confirm everything was ok, subsequently the crew decided that they could taxi back to their parking space at slow speed.
“This has been an eventful day, but it is reassuring to be part of a wider team that operates so effectively under pressure.”
Captain of the Voyager
Once safely back on the chocks, RAF engineers worked through the night to replace the wheels, ensuring the Voyager could continue its vital role in the exercise the following day.