Friday, February 7, 2014

The Friday Flyby - 07 February

There are lots of really cool aircraft that get a lot of attention around here. But very few of them could perform the mission without the flying gas stations. Ladies and gentlemen, officers and enlisted, aviators and maintainers, I give you...

The Tankers!

KC-135 with 2 F-4Cs of the Hawaiian Air National Guard

KC-135 Boom Operator's Position
Of course, back in the day, things weren't quite as "high tech"...

Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter receiving the first mid-air refueling on
June 27, 1923, from a plane flown by 1st Lt. Virgil Hine and 1st Lt. Frank W. Seifert. Wikipedia
Things don't always go as planned...

(Note that the title should read "E-3A AWACS". That's a NATO bird out of my old stomping grounds at NATO AB Geilenkirchen. First time I saw this video, it scared the crap out of me!)

Usually though, things go exactly as planned. Remember, these folks are professionals.

Of course, the Navy does it too. Slightly different but the end result is the same, a gassed up bird ready to hit the target or to head on home.

Not all tankers are big ginormous birds carrying a crap ton of JP-5. Sometimes this happens...

F/A-18E Super Hornet Refueling an F/A-18F Super Hornet

Son-in-law Big Time had to play tanker for a while on his penultimate cruise on the Big E out towards bad guy land (Afghanistan). No, he was not thrilled with that. (Here's where all the old Tomcat types can snark and make fun. But watch it, Lex is watching, I'm sure!)

To add insult to injury: Big Time flies the "E" model. His wife The WSO rides the "F". I'm sure she will get a big chuckle out of that picture. (Him? Not so much.)

Oh, for you Tomcat guys (and you know who you are), even Turkeys needed to tank on occasions!

Waiting in line at the pump - Desert Storm

Oh, let's not leave Juvat out. (Another of my old outfits in this photo, the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Kadena. His as well, a couple of years after I had moved on. The new-fangled term is 18th Wing I think.)

Note the "ZZ" tail code on the Eagles AND the KC-135,
in my day, the tankers all belonged to SAC.

Now as you can see by the next photo, the KC-10 Extender (another USAF tanker) is a very big bird.

But it is dwarfed by the C-5 Galaxy!

Say, isn't that another F-4 in the background? How'd that get there?

We must not forget Tuna's old ride, the Mighty War Hoover! (Aka, the S-3 Viking.)

Yup, the Hoover could haul gas too!

Yup, the big birds need love too. Otherwise, the little guys can't go very far. Even the mighty B-2 Spirit needs to tank on occasion. Ya know for those times when you just have to "reach out and touch someone".

Hey Skipper, did we remember to turn off the cloaking device?


  1. Well, as a wise flight lead I had once said, the only time you can have too much gas in a fighter is when you're on fire!

    Several tanker stories come to mind, Refueling in the middle of the Atlantic in the weather and being absolutely convinced we were upside down. Having to refuel in a large exercise at Kadena just when the bad guy push was starting, running the rejoin above the mach amd pulling a 9 g conversion turn, rolling out in the pre-contact position, taking gas. Disconnecting while the tanker started his retrograde, burners and back into battle. That one got my wingman over his refueling jitters. Never had a problem after that.
    Deploying in the F-4 to Taegu, and having the trim motor fail halfway between Santa Barbara and Hickam. Most of the fuel in the F-4 was loaded longitudinally, and the trim motor failed prior to fillup, so subsequent tanking left the bird very nose heavy. Autopilot couldn't handle it. Two right arms got very sore, Rendezvoused with the tankers out of Hickam and one was a KC-10. They put me on that one, and yes it is big. The boom flight controls were big enough that they could relieve alot of the control pressure, So I stayed in the contact position for most of the rest of the way. That took care of any of MY residual refueling jitters.

    Again, Sarge, another fine fly by. Keep up the good work. Another Ice storm last night, so we're on a 2 hour delay for work. Love this global warming/Maunder Minimum.

    1. Great stories Juvat. You should expand some of those great stories and post them, ya know, somewhere.

      More ice? So will I be able to see polar bears if I visit Texas?

    2. Just went out and checked on the horses, busted up the ice on the trough and pulled 1 inch thick chunks out. Dopey horses wouldn't go in to the barn, so they've got a bit of sleet coating. All that said, they will be about as close to a polar bear as you're going to see.

    3. Heh. Horses, ya gotta love 'em.

      And OMG, that sounds pretty cold! (You aren't up in the Panhandle are you? Last time I drove through Amarillo it was colder'n Hell with about a foot of snow on the ground. Of course, that was 1987. Shortly after the last glaciation period.)

    4. No, in the hill country, northwest of San Antonio and west of Austin. We VERY rarely get ice and so have very little infrastructure to deal with it. Sup made a good decision around 7 to call school for the day. It's in the low to mid 20s and breezy, which I realize sounds like a heat wave to some readers, but I did my time in the cold in Korea. Moved to Texas for a reason!

    5. Low to mid 20s and "breezy" is cold. Not Arctic-cold, but cold enough.

      Korea was cold, but not as cold as where I grew up. Kinda like Little Rhody in some ways.

  2. An amazing skill to perform midair!

    Do they need an attendant when fueling over New Jersey?

    1. Excellent question Joe. Maybe they do the refueling out at sea, to avoid the whole need for an attendant. (Though I kinda like that, in Little Rhody you nearly always have to pump your own. No fun when the wind is coming in off the Atlantic in February!)

  3. I always thought bein' a boom operator was prolly the best AF job available on the enlisted side. The only downside I could see was a distinct lack o' demand for that skill once you retired.

    1. I think you're right. On both counts.

      You get to fly, great view. You get to wear the flight suit (which is a chick magnet). And you get to see a lot of really cool aircraft. And your job is important.

      But yeah. I don't know of any civilian boom operators.

  4. Good ones, and the 'show stopper' at most USN airshows was an A-6 or S-3 'towing' an F-14 in a hook up by the crowd at 500 feet and 400 kts... :-) Thankfully 'my' bird didn't have a refueling capability... 12 hours BIS was long enough!!!

    1. I did a search on "p-3 orion air-to-air refueling". There were some experiments.

      The crews of those would have had to have butts of iron!

  5. But it is dwarfed by the C-5 Galaxy!

    Reminded me of this.

    Vietnam Babylift, My Story
    ..........another girl who was on the flight, but survived was Thelma Thompson. I visited her in the hospital in the Philippines. She told me she had been saved by a miracle, as she had originally been seated in the bottom of the airplane, but at the last minute had been asked to go and sit up in the tail section, as they were in need of more companions for the orphans there. Although the C5A was 65 feet high, Thelma only needed one short step to reach the ground when she exited at the conclusion of the crash. As I remember, there was nothing left of the bottom part of the plane. We can only hope that the end for most was instantaneous.

    1. I can't look at a C-5 without remembering that as well. Thanks for the link Brock.

    2. & the picture of the door you posted was Thelma's short step.

  6. Rules about tanking stolen from the Marine Maj who wrote "FA-18 over Kuwait" but oh so true. a) They'll always find the most turbulent patch of air to racetrack in b) when you're low on gas they are always going away on the down-wind track, c) When you're low on gas they NEVER arrive on-station early but almost ALWAYS depart early. LOL--ALL true. (he had some others but cant remember.) Oh, yes, d) (this would not have been possible in my day, lol) the AC always seems to have the female crew-member on his lap letting her fly when yours truly taps

  7. BTW, FWIW my very 1st AF "ride" in AFROTC was at "summer camp" at Lockbourne AFB just outside Columbus, OH in summer of '65 when it was a KC-135/C-130 base. We flew a refueling msn over Presque Isle, Maine, refueling a B-52. Spectacular scenery, the island being an emerald-green gem stand-out in a deep blue sea. And the close-up of the B-52 from the boom-operators position was impressive too. (Can't remember which bomb wing the Bongo was from. The local Loring?)

    1. That must have been an experience.

      Both daughters got a tanker ride when they were in AF JROTC in Germany. They loved it!

  8. Of all the missions the Viking did, I probably have more time in the overhead tanker pattern than anything else. Boring mission, unless you're helping out a very low state jet coming off a bolter, but pretty important nevertheless.

    1. I can see how flying a racetrack pattern for hours at a time could get a little dull.


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