Flying with the 100th ARW Refueling Aviano F-16s
It's 5am on a dreary Monday morning more likening to a day in November rather than early July. I was asked to meet at the main gate at RAF Mildenhall home of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing which fly the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker, on arriving at to the operations building of the 100th ARW, 351st ARS you are greeted with a large sign displaying the initials NKAWTG-Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas.
After a short wait for the crew of Quid 74 we head into the briefing. Leading the brief was Captain Tim Mach, who would be in charge of the flight. The brief is very detailed and consists of every possible check that can be done on the ground so that the other crew members are aware of there own roles prior to the flight. Captain Mach runs through the details starting with the basics of the flight & it's receivers. We would be flying to the 'Speedy' racetrack, which is an Air-to-Air Refuelling area over the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Italy, our receivers would be eight General Dynamic F-16CM-40-CF Fighting Falcons from the 31st Fighter Wing based at Aviano AFB in Northern Italy.
Captain Mach then moved on to specifics such as agreeing which pilot would be performing the take-off & landing. Emergency procedures are covered in great detail such as engine fire on start-up and control surfaces failures during the take-off run. Diversion airfields are pre-planned as part of planning the route and for this mission the primary divert airbase was Ramstein in Germany. The Captain then asked the Boom Operator, A1C Amy Lizauckas to run through the details of the fuel to be offloaded, in this case 60,000 lbs are available, and she also discusses emergency breakaway procedures if there are any complications during the refuel itself. After a chance for any final questions the brief finishes.
With the briefing complete the crew transport arrives to take us to the aircraft. For this mission, the KC-135R assigned would be serial number 63-8021 using the call-sign 'Quid 74'. The co-pilot and boom operator climb aboard to the start there internal checks whilst the captain is responsible for the external checks. It's a very in-depth check, checking everything from various engine panels, landing gear to the final 'kick the tyres'.
Once inside the KC-135 the first thing you notice is there are no conventional seats just canvas seats lining either side of the cargo area. In the cockpit the pilot & co-pilot run through the pre-flight checks. The boom operator checks everything is secure in the cargo bay. Once the crew were happy it was time for engine start, what you do notice is the noise inside the aircraft even with ear plugs and a head set it's still pretty deafening nothing like being on a commercial airliner.
The weather outside was still very bad with heavy rain and numerous thunderstorms in the area, but without delay we taxied from our hard stand to runway 29. Our planned route would be to the edge of London before hitting the coast to fly into France and over Paris, even at 29,000 ft there was still a lot of cloud around until we got it the Alps them we were greeted with blue skies. Heading into Italy it's not long before we arrive over the Adriatic Sea and head for the Speedy Racetrack.
Descending to 24,000ft for the refuelling, A1C Amy Lizauckas repositioned from the cockpit to the boom area at the rear of the aircraft. The boom operators position is basically a small bench which is reached by climbing into a small compartment then crawling into position, it's incredibly cramped with the boom operator lying on there front with only a chin rest for comfort. The view through the boom window offers a wide viewing area. Once in position after a short wait 'Venom 21' flight makes contact via the radio of there arrival. The first F-16 approached slowly to the boom from directly behind with the receptacle on the F-16 behind the cockpit, the pilot ensures they are lined up against the markers on the underside of the KC-135. Once contact is made the boom operator works hard to ensure they both remain in contact using the two controlled surfaces mounted at the end of the refuelling receptacle.
Once refuelling is complete 'Venom 21' dropped back from the tanker allowing the rest of the flight to take on fuel. After this flight of four had got there gas, it was time for 'Buzzard 22' a flight of three for there turn. What is noticeable is when the pilot is being refuelled trying to keep the aircraft in perfect position in relationship to the tanker is hard work and very challenging and breaks can occur. As stated the F-16’s were from the 31st Fighter Wing from Aviano AFB and were a mixture of both based Squadrons the 510th Buzzards & the 555th Triple Nickel’s. The fighters were in the track for about 90 minutes. With the mission complete and the boom secured back into standard flight configuration, we turned back into mainland Europe before heading back towards RAF Mildenhall.
Spending a day with the 100th ARW goes to show the skill of the pilot, co-pilot & boom operator and shows that Air-to-Air refuelling is something that is essential to modern military flight operations.
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 Squadron 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 honours.
The wing is divided into three groups.
The 100th Operations Groupwhich provides critical air refuelling to Air Combat Command, Air Forces Special Operations Command, Air Mobility Command, United States Air Forces in Europe & NATO allies. The 100th Operations Support Squadron provides full-spectrum, critical operational support to include mission planning, flight scheduling, intelligence, combat crew communications, survival training, weather, airfield operations, air traffic control, life support supervision, flight records management, and flight data analysis.
The 100th Maintenance Groupfor a full spectrum of aircraft and equipment maintenance, ensuring refueling operations, tactical airlift, special operations and strategic ISR readiness throughout the EUCOM, AFRICOM and Southwest Asia theaters. The group provides mission-ready aircraft as the sole organic air refueling capability in theater for USAFE, ACC, AFSOC and AMC. Additionally, 100 MXG maintains regional fuel systems repair capabilities for all KC-135 aircraft while deploying Airmen and equipment in support of NATO, EUCOM, CENTCOM and AFRICOM. The group is comprised of three squadrons. The 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, The 100th Maintenance Operations Squadron, The 100th Maintenance Squadron.
The 100th Mission Support Groupconsist of five squadrons that support the 100th ARW. The 100th Civil Engineer Squadron which supports missions for personnel. The 100th Communications Squadron provides management, operation of communications-computer systems. The 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron provides logistic support to the Wing. It manages stores and distributes supply assets and fuel. The 100th Force Support Squadron provides customer support in personnel services, readiness/family support. The 100th Security Forces Squadron defends the 1,100 acre air base of RAF Mildenhall
The author wishes to thank SrA V. Taylor & SrA M. Anthony for their assistance in arranging my visit. Special thanks must be given to the crew of QUID72 (Capt T Mach, 1LT C Smith and A1c A Lizauckas) who kindly allowed me to accompany them on their flight and could not have been more welcoming and helpful.