Friday 28 Feb 2020

Behind The Scenes With The 916th Air Refueling Wing

While Seymour Johnson Air Force Base gears up for the 2017 Wings Over Wayne Airshow, it’s another day at work for the men and women of the 916th Air Refueling Wing.

The 916th ARW is made up of over 1,500 Reserve and Active Duty Airmen, and is responsible for keeping the Air Force’s fleet of fighters fueled up and ready to fight, all from 20,000 feet.

Goldsboro Daily News got a chance to fly along with the 916th Air Refueling Wing and the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, and show how important their mission is! Their fleet of KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft provide air-to-air refueling for any situation, and we got a behind the scenes look at how that works.

Here’s some quick facts about the KC-135 that might surprise you. The KC-135 can not only carry 83,000 pounds of cargo but also can transfer a fuel load of 200,000 pounds! Let’s break that down a little… the average passenger car could run for more than a year on the amount of fuel transferred through the air refueling boom in just one minute, a gas station pump running for 24 hours straight couldn’t pump as much fuel as the refueling boom does in 8 minutes, and the average fuel carried on a single KC-135 flight would be enough to fuel the average driver for 46 years.

At 1000 hours on Wednesday it was showtime. Our mission: takeoff from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and provide vital in-flight refueling to a group of jets training off the coast of North Carolina. We took off shortly before 11am with another KC-135 just ahead of us. One of the coolest experiences of my life was sitting in the cockpit with Captain Paul Hesser and First Lieutenant Colin Cook. It’s a view you never get to see unless you’re a pilot. We took off just after another KC-135 and climbed out in formation with the other jet. We headed towards Cherry Point, NC and made a turn out over the Outer Banks and above the Atlantic Ocean. After we leveled off above 20,000 feet, our boom operators Senior Airman AJ Gac and Staff Sergeant Mike Eiland climbed into the boom operators station at the rear of the KC-135. Laying on their stomach and looking through a window at the back of the aircraft, they have a panoramic view overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Not a bad office view at all.

It doesn’t take long for our first customer to pull up to this gas station in the sky. An F-15E Strike Eagle from Seymour Johnson appears on the horizon behind us. The fighter slowly makes it’s way closer towards the boom extended from the rear of the KC-135. As the strike eagle moves closer, the boom operator slowly extends and “steers” the boom into the refueling port on the fighter. Contact is made and the pilots of the KC-135 start to dump fuel into the fighter. This transfer doesn’t take long as the F-15 cruises less than 50 feet underneath the tanker. Hand eye coordination and concentration on the part of the boom operator is a necessity during refueling to make sure the receiving jet maintains enough separation from the tanker. What happens if the receiver gets too close? The boom operator has to break off the fuel transfer and wait until there’s a safe distance to re-connect and resume fueling.

After the fighter receives it’s fuel, it disconnected from the boom and banked away, disappearing back into the mission.

The 916th ARW at Seymour Johnson plays a vital role in the Air Force mission allowing planes to stay up as long as they need to in order to complete a mission. Ssgt Eiland said the KC-135 has an impressive range capable of over 17 hours in the air, but said most missions are much shorter than that. A short flight is typically 2 hours, a long flight can be 6 hours, but Eiland mentioned his longest flight was 14 hours. He explained that his 14 hour flight didn’t include any in-flight refueling which made the flight seem to take even longer. Eiland said staying busy refueling is a much more enjoyable flight and makes time go by quicker!

The 916th’s KC-135 will be on display this weekend at Wings Over Wayne 2017. Stop by and take a look at this impressive tanker that is responsible for keeping our fighters flying. Wings Over Wayne 2017 is a free event open to the public. For more information, visit the Wings Over Wayne website. Special thanks to the 916th ARW for this behind the scenes look at in-flight refueling!

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One Comment

  1. It is an amazing job that you guys do and it boggles the mind how precise your actions need to be to keep the entire process safe. The great example of the perfect fit between man and machine.


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