KC-135s refuel Idaho's A-10s in mid-flight

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur
  • 124th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
GOWEN FIELD, Idaho - Slight rain trickled on March 9 as more than 120 airmen from Idaho paced one-by-one onto the Gowen Field flight line to board two eagerly-waiting KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, and a C-17 Globemaster III bound for the Green Flag East combat air exercise.

Many of the Idaho Air National Guardsmen have not yet had the opportunity to fly in the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker refueling and transport aircraft.

They were able to watch nine of Idaho's A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthogs refuel in the air, flying over several states toward Barksdale AFB, their temporary home for more than two weeks.

Other airmen had the same opportunity on the return flight, March 26, after the successful finish to the Green Flag exercise when the same KC-135s escorted the A-10s home.

A cargo deck above the refueling system holds a mixed load of passengers and cargo. Depending on fuel storage configuration, the KC-135 can carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo and 12,000 pounds of fuel per each A-10 it refuels, allowing for a total weight capability of 322,500 pounds. The primary fuel transfer method is through a pump, known as the "flying boom," at the lower-rear end of the KC-135 fuselage. The nozzle, attached to the flying boom, connects to an air-refueling receptacle above the nose of the A-10.

Tech. Sgt. Santiago Avila, the boom operator, from the Utah 191st Airlift Squadron Air Guard, is stationed in the rear of the plane and controls the boom during in-flight air refueling.

"We move people, cargo and refuel the A-10s moving a detachment of a fighter squadron across country in only a few hours. Having a guard on guard fighter-tanker relationship is unique and rewarding. Without in-flight refueling the fighter would have to land and refuel, extending the duration of the move to multiple hours, if not an entire day," Avila said.

First Lt. Bud Munns, a new "Warthog" pilot to the 190th Fighter Squadron, experienced his first aerial refueling from the KC-135 to the A-10 aircraft he was flying.

"This was my first non-training refueling experience with the 190th. It was a bit different knowing that we have to maintain and complete the refuel mission in air," he said.

"In training if I didn't complete my (aerial) refuel, I could land, refuel and continue on with training. With this refueling, we have to get the equipment and people to where they need to be (Barksdale AFB) to support the mission, so it is more important to do the in-air refueling. We don't have the option of landing to refuel," he said.

The KC-135 aircraft has been refueling for the Air Force for more than 50 years, helping to succeed in its primary mission of global reach, with the capability to aerial refuel multiple types of aircraft flown by the U.S. military and it's allies. The nozzle at the end of the fuel boom fits into most Air Force aircraft like the A-10s and a variety of other aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the F-22 Raptor, the B-2 Spirit Bomber, the C-17 Globemaster III and the F-15E Strike Eagle.

"Refueling missions in the combat zone involving pre-strike and post-strike air refueling. We refuel fighters and bombers. We refuel Navy, Marines, Air Force, NATO and allied aircraft," Avila said.

Military aircraft use the KC-135 refueling aircraft for combat missions as well as for logistical support. Refueling in the air in a war zone situation is critical for mission success. It saves valuable time, financial and manpower resources by allowing continuous air support for the protection of the troops fighting below.