News>Feature - Air Force tanker crew assists stricken jet fighter
Left to right, Capt. Michael Thomson, Maj. Jody Griffin, Lt Col. Aaron Wardlaw, Senior Master Sgt. Keith Werner and Airman 1st Class Frank Pappalardo stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan on 31, 2012. The 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 crew assisted stricken fighter aircraft by guiding it through a series of specific maneuvers to reset the on-board flight computers and allowing the pilot to regain effective communcations and navigational instruments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
Lt. Col. Aaron Wardlaw, left, and Maj. Jody Griffin conduct pre-flight checks in a KC-135 Stratotanker at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan on Aug. 31, 2012. The 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 crew assisted a stricken fighter aircraft by guiding the jet through a series of specific maneuvers to reset the on-board flight computers and allowing the pilot to regain effective communications and navigational instruments. Wardlaw is a 22 EARS aircraft commander deployed out of the 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, and a native of Stillwater, Okla. Griffin is a KC-135 pilot deployed out of the 137 ARW and a native of Greenville, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
Senior Master Sgt. Keith Werner adjusts a Roll-On Beyond Line of Sight Enhancement data link system at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan on Aug. 31, 2012. The 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 crew assisted a stricken fighter aircraft by guiding it through a series of specific maneuvers to reset the on-board flight computers and allowing the pilot to regain effective communications and navigational instruments. Werner is a 22 EARS boom operator deployed out of the 137th Air Refueling Wing, Oklahoma Air National Guard, and is a native of Oklahoma City. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman)
by Capt. Martha L. Petersante
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/31/2012 - TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyztan (AFNS) -- When the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron crew stepped into their large tanker aircraft for a recent mission and departed the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, they believed they had just begun another "normal" day over Afghanistan.
This day, however, proved to be anything but normal as the crew found themselves in a unique situation, literally acting as a wingman to a much smaller fighter jet in trouble.
Capt. Michael Thomson, a 22 EARS pilot who was acting as an observer during this mission, said the day was part of standard operations in the assigned area. As the crew prepared to support their last regularly scheduled fighter aircraft, a radio transmission from the lead aircraft, apprised the team of a sudden change of plans.
"The lead explained they were engaged in a troops in contact scenario and 'my wingman will be up for gas shortly,'" he said. "The lead moved into position, received the needed fuel and returned to the battlespace, then we waited for the other jet."
Moments passed as the KC-135 Stratotanker's Liberando crew awaited the second jet. Moments turned into minutes and concern began to build among the refueling crew.
Lt. Col. Aaron Wardlaw, 22 EARS aircraft commander, made several attempts to contact the wingman on the air refueling frequency to no avail. Moments later, he saw the aircraft move around its 9-o'clock position and maneuver to the astern refueling position when the crew heard, "visual, request astern" crackling, barely audible over the tanker's radio.
Knowing something wasn't right, 22 EARS boom operator Senior Master Sergeant Keith Werner isolated radio contact with the fighter jet's pilot, establishing clearer communications.
"How are things going?" Werner said.
"The only thing working on this jet is my engine," replied the fighter pilot.
"Not the reply you want to hear, at altitude, over hostile territory," said Airman 1st Class Frank Pappalardo, a 22 EARS boom operator, who was assigned to observe the flight.
After the words echoed through the KC-135, the crew immediately began a closely-coordinated multitasking dance to gear up for potential emergency contingencies.
"By asking ourselves, 'What can we do and how can we support?' we prepared for any scenario and ensured we were able to provide immediate support," Wardlaw said.
While taking on the initial fuel load, the stricken pilot told the crew he had engaged with troops on the ground and asked the boom operators to look his jet over for any possible battle damage. The two boom operators checked the fighter for damage simultaneously as the aircraft commander and copilot, Maj. Jody Griffin, teamed to ensure navigation airspace kept them out of bordering countries, while maintaining fuel transfer to the aircraft.
The team worked to provide a stable platform to support the fighter off their wingtip within the assigned airspace at a constant speed and altitude. The pilot observer, Thomson, utilized the satellite radio to obtain up-to-date weather reports for possible landing airfields within the area of responsibility.
As the team worked in-flight emergency scenarios, the common theme remained, "He needs help; we're all he's got right now. We have to deliver," Wardlaw said.
The Liberandos delivered during crunch time, guiding the aircraft through a series of specific maneuvers to reset the on-board flight computers and allowing the pilot to regain effective communications and navigational instruments.
"It's all about taking care of your own," Wardlaw said. "While we may operate different platforms, ultimately he's a fellow Airman who needed our help on a bad day."
Thomson said the tanker crew didn't do anything special that day, just provide a little extra support and fuel while coordinating command and control information.
" It's our ability to provide air refueling that ensures a continued, minimal response time for direct support of coalition service members on the ground," Thomson said. " That makes us all one team."
9/8/2012 11:58:10 AM ET Guess that nation dn want aircraft type or participation mentioned. Remember when the Daily Air Summaries included even number and gallons of tanking ops and airdrops. There was article this wk about how few people realize we are losing about 1 service person a day to combat.
Bob Cordes, Chillicothe OH
9/6/2012 9:17:51 AM ET To RC from GA Don't really think that them being mostly guard played a part in helping a fellow aviator with a very serious problem in not so friendly territory. Hope that any airman in this situation would lend a helping hand. Great Job guys
9/6/2012 7:26:33 AM ET Great Job Proud of the mostly Guard crew from OKC mentioned inn the article.
9/5/2012 8:14:09 PM ET Good job fellas Normal OPS for the 185ARS
Justin Walker, NormanOK
9/5/2012 11:47:30 AM ET I read about a flight of F-4's heading to the US from the UK with a KC-135 tanker back in the early 80's. One F-4 had an engine seize up due to oil loss and lost power in the other one then started losing altitude. They turned around and headed back to the UK. Unfortunately they had a tail wind until turning around and then it became a headwind. The tanker actually 'backed up' connected the boom and 'towed' the ailing F-4 back up to altitude while refueling it. It 'force-disconnected' several times and they had to repeat the reconnect. The engine finally started to respond and gave them enough thrust to safely land. That must have been a white-knuckled flight.
James Peek SRA USAF 1981-1985, Titusville Florida
9/5/2012 7:28:46 AM ET Great job and superior performance to Aaron Michael and Keith. Nothing less than the expected performance of these team members. Well Accomplished
Gary Scott CMSgt-Ret, Moore OK
9/4/2012 3:27:07 PM ET That was an amazing save. Great job to the whole crew. Makes one proud to be an Air Force brat Thank you