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100th Air Refuelling Wing
 
KC-135R Stratotanker - 63-7979/D - 351 Air Refueling Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   KC-135R Stratotanker - 58-0034/D - 351 Air Refueling Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   KC-135R Stratotanker - 58-0100/D - 351 Air Refueling Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   KC-135R Stratotanker - 57-1493/D - 351 Air Refueling Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 

Flying with the 'Bloody Hundredth'

Report and Photographs by Ashley Wallace

On the 28th February 2013 Touchdown Aviation were given the great privilege to join the crew onboard "QUID 42" for an air-to-air refuelling sortie over the East coast of the UK. The KC-135 Stratotanker is a real workhorse of the US Air Force and is no stranger in the skies above Europe. RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk based in the UK is home to the 100th Air Refuelling Wing / 351st Air Refuelling Squadron - with it being the only Air refuelling unit permanently based in Europe the squadron plays a huge part in supporting all USAFE and NATO assets aswell as supporting all allies in Africa and Asia.

With the motto "Peace Through Strength" the 100th ARW is currently composed of 15 KC-135Rs and provides a critical air refueling bridge which allows the Expeditionary Air Force to deploy at anytime. During WWII its predecessor unit, the 100th Bombardment Group was an Eighth Air Force flying the B-17 Flying Fortress. During this time the group suffered a significant amount of losses in combat - it was then when the unit inherited the nickname the "Bloody Hundredth". The 100th is the one and only wing in the US Air Force inventory to be allowed to display the (Square D) tail markings of its WWII predessor after the wing earnt its honors.

The 100th have supported many conflicts over the years with one of the most recent being the Libyan Civil War under the Operation "Odyssey Dawn" and "Unified Protector". During March and April 2011, the 100th flew daily missions from Mildenhall down over Libya to support coalition forces in support of the No-Fly Zone over the country. On the 26th January 2013 the airmen and aircraft of the 100th were called upon and deployed to a location in the Southwest Europe in support of international military operations in Mali and began flying as the 351st Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron. The "Bloody Hundredth" were to conduct air refuelling missions in support of the French forces taking part in operations in Mali, a country in the North-West of Africa. In less than two months, the 351st EARS has completed 100 sorties supporting the French - the sorties include more than 1,000 receiver contacts and more than 4.5 million pounds of fuel being transferred. Without the US Air Force providing air refuelling support, the French Air Force would lose about 50% of their daily fighter sorties - without tanker support from any nation, no fighters could perform their mission because their airfields are too far from the Joint Operations Area.

F-15D Eagle - 86-0182/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
F-15C Eagle - 84-0015/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
F-15E Strike Eagle - 01-2000/LN - 494 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe

Air to Air Refuelling Flight with "QUID 42"

Upon arrival at the 100th Operations building you are greeted with "N.K.A.W.T.G" written on the wall which translates to 'Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas'. The first and most important stage before any flight is the pre-flight briefing. During this briefing the flight crew that usually consists of a Pilot, Co-Pilot and the boom operator run through all the information regarding their flight including takeoff, weather, receivers, the rendezvous point, pattern work upon return to Mildenhall and any last minute changes to the flight.

Once all points in the briefing have been covered the crew then head out to their awaiting aircraft on the flight line. The pilot then conducts a exterior pre-flight walk around of the aircraft while the co-pilot runs through his checklist making sure that the aircraft is satisfactory. The boom operator then pre-flights the boom pod making sure everything is as it should be and if need be he will make sure the boom window is clear of any hydraulic fluid which has a tendency to drip and run down the glass causing the vision of the boomer to be impaired. Next he will make sure all cargo is on loaded, is safely strapped down and secured inside the aircraft - then make sure all doors and hatches are firmly closed.

Once airborne from RAF Mildenhall "QUID 42" - KC-135R 58-0034, the newest resident of the 100th ARW although one of the oldest C-135 airframes in the USAF inventory, climbed out over Bury St Edmunds before making a right turn back over the airfield and climbed to FL160 and headed to ARA8 (Air Refuelling Area 8) what is known as a race track above the Wash on the East Coast of England, this is where we stayed on station for 2 hours and waited for our receivers.

Trade for the day was a flight of three F-15s from the 493rd Fighter Squadron "Grim Reapers" callsign "Chosen 11 flt" and two F-15E Strike Eagles from the 492nd Fighter Squadron their callsigns being "Casino 11 & 12". Once the receiving aircraft have checked in with the KC-135, verbal contact is then made with the boom operator who then confirms that they are on course and switches are safe for the whole formation as well as getting their tail numbers and offload request. Once that is completed he clears the receiving aircraft to the pre-contact position which is 50 feet behind the KC-135, making sure they are aligned by using the yellow painted line on the underside of the KC-135. The boom attached to the KC-135 is very flexible, allowing it to move freely whilst 'plugged' into the receiver aircraft - if the boom was not, air to air refuelling would be made impossible.

 
F-15E Strike Eagle - 98-0133/LN - 492 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15E Strike Eagle - 98-0133/LN - 492 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15E Strike Eagle - 98-0133/LN - 492 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15E Strike Eagle - 98-0133/LN - 492 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
F-15D Eagle - 86-0182/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15D Eagle - 86-0182/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15C Eagle - 84-0015/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15D Eagle - 86-0182/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 

Once the receiving aircraft has connected, the boom operator has to make sure that the boom stays attached to the receiver aircraft - while the pilot of the receiver aircraft also have huge responsibility in keeping the jet aligned and steady. The pilot of the Strike Eagle maintained concentration on keeping his jet aligned with the KC-135 while his Weapons System Operator kept an eye on the connection of the refuelling nozzle - a great skill acquired by both the pilots of receiving aircraft and of the boom operator. In this case our tanker offloaded 5,000 pounds of fuel to both our receiving F-15Es "Casino 11 & 12" - typically, most fighters can take onboard between 5 and 20,000 pounds of fuel depending on whether they are carrying external fuel tanks. C-130s typically take on anything between 30 and 50,000 pounds of fuel - but because C-130s travel at a much slower speed than fighters and taking onboard extra fuel they get heavier which makes it harder for them to keep their speed up, so the tanker performs what is called a 'Tobaggan' which is a nose down descent so that the C-130 can pick up speed.

Larger aircraft such as C-5s, B-1s, E-3s and C-17s can take anything between 70 and 130,000 pounds of fuel. When it comes to refuelling heavy aircraft the whole procedure of air to air refuelling becomes a lot more complicated because there are different types of rendezvous that they can perform. Most of the time all the receiver has to worry about is being at what is called the control point at the right time and the tanker crew worry about the rest. Once the receiving aircraft are behind the tanker the same radio calls are made but there is a lot more talking involved due to the receivers 'Bow Wave' which is the force of air pushed off of the aircraft - the KC-135 also has a bow wave which comes off of the rear of the tanker with the receiver typically hitting this at about 20 feet astern of it. Once the reciever is connected the same verbal is happening in the tanker because every slight movement the receiver makes affects the KC-135 - after disconnect it is important that the boomer pays attention to the rate in which the receiver backs off from the tanker as if its too fast it could trip out the autopilot in the KC-135 and knock it off course.

After being in AAR8 for over 2 hours and having off loaded 5,000 pounds of fuel to each of our five scheduled receivers, QUID 42 returned to its home base of RAF Mildenhall.

The Author would like to thank RAF Mildenhalls Public Affairs, the 100th ARW, in particular SSgt Latisha Cole for organising this flight and the crew of QUID 42 for their great hospitality throughout the flight - without them this article would not have been possible.

 
F-15E Strike Eagle - 98-0133/LN - 492 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15E Strike Eagle - 01-2000/LN - 494 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   F-15E Strike Eagle - 01-2000/LN - 494 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe   KC-135R Stratotanker - 57-1493/D - 351 Air Refueling Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
F-15D Eagle - 86-0182/LN - 493 Fighter Squadron - United States Air Forces in Europe
 
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