ascent of K2
Graham Robson witnesses the last operational sortie of a VC10K2
22 March saw VC10K2 ZA142 make the last operational sortie for the K2 variant of this classic airliner cum latter-day tanker. All five airframes had reached the end of their natural lives and have been retired to St Athan to await the scrapman's torch, a sad end to an elegant queen of the skies.
In the early eighties, to meet an increased need for air-to-air refueling, nine former civilian operated VC10s were completely rebuilt by British Aerospace at Filton, five ex-British Airways examples being converted to the K Mk 2 variant (K2) and four ex-East African Airways Super VC10s into the K Mk 3 (K3). Three HDUs (hose and drogue units) were fitted, a Mk17B in the rear fuselage and a Mk32 under each wing. The K3 was able to carry more fuel than the K2, with 190,000 pounds as against 112,000 for the latter.
The K2s were delivered to Brize Norton during 1984, with 101 Squadron becoming operational on 1 May. The K3 would arrive a year or so later, forming the backbone of the RAF's refueling task, together with the Victor K2s of 55 Squadron at Marham.
Today, with the retirement of the K2, 101 Squadron continues to operate the K3 and the later K4, introduced in the early nineties to fill the void left by the retirement of the Victor in 1993. For how much longer is not certain, as the RAF's refueling task is set to be 'contractorised' through a PFI venture in the next few years, probably using converted Boeing 767 or Airbus A330 aircraft.