THEY have carried more than 250,000 soldiers home from Afghanistan in the past eight years.
And they have clocked up more than 25 million kilo-metres – enough to circle the globe 640 times.
But today marks the last journey the TriStar planes and 216 Squadron of RAF Brize Norton will ever make together.
Introduced in 1984, two years after the Falklands War, the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar has played a key role in the RAF.
Its main operations have been equipment and troop transport and refuelling fighter jets in mid-air.
Over the years the RAF has operated nine, bought from British Airways and Pan American World Airways. But now they have been phased out and replaced with more modern Voyager aircraft.
Yesterday they carried out one final sortie, refuelling a trio of Eurofighter Typhoon jets over the North Sea. The RAF’s four remaining jets will today be flown out to Bruntingthorpe to be scrapped.
Flight Lieutenant Will Stock is a TriStar captain and will be flying the new planes.
He said: “The TriStars are quite high maintenance, but the Voyagers are much more modern and should offer a big improvement. In terms of its rarity, a lot of enthusiasts will be sad to see the TriStar go.”
One TriStar still flying is launching satellites for Orbital Sciences Corporation in the Mojave Desert, America, and another is said to be working in the United Arab Emirates.
To British forces though, the TriStar was the plane that brought people home.
It has been conducting missions to Afghanistan from RAF Brize Norton since 2005.
This work, which includes bringing the wounded home on stretchers, has been the most rewarding, said Sergeant Dave O’Boyle, 31.
He has been part of 216 Squadron at Brize Norton since October 2010, living with his family in Carterton.
The father-of-two said: “I will never forget my time on the TriStars, partly because they were the first planes I ever flew in for this job.”
216 Squadron, formed from No 16 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service at the formation of the RAF, is being disbanded with the end of the TriStar.
There will be no redundancies among its 490 members, but many who were air engineers are no longer required in the Voyagers and so will retrain for other roles.
Flt Sgt Jerry Peach, 48, who was on yesterday’s sortie as the air engineer, has clocked more than 5,000 hours in TriStars.
He said: “It is very sad to see the TriStars go. They are lovely aircraft and have been worked pretty hard over the years.
“Working with them and the rest of 216 Squadron has been really rewarding though, because it’s felt like we’ve made a real difference.”
Wing Commander Pete Morgan, 216 Squadron commanding officer for its final two years, will supervise its winding down. He said: “It has been a long slog, going in and out of Afghanistan, so it is a relief to see the job is now over.”