Forces join together to fuel the coalition
By Staff Sgt. Marti Ribeiro, 401st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 04, 2003
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- The U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force have joined forces at an RAF base in the Eastern Mediterranean to set up a refueling mission.
A refueling system was needed that was more efficient than refueling aircraft by fuel trucks, according to RAF Warrant Officer 2nd Class Paul Lelliott, who oversees the coalition fuel operation.
"We also needed to be able to refuel multiple aircraft simultaneously," he said.
To solve this problem, Royal Engineers from the British Army built an intricate system to collect U.K. fuel from barges that pass through the Mediterranean. The system pumps fuel from a barge through a series of pipelines into a fuel bladder close to the flightline. Aircraft maintenance and fuel specialists from the United States and the United Kingdom use the fuel to fill up Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers.
Stratotankers have been the main refueling aircraft in the Air Force inventory for more than 40 years and are still carrying the lion's share.
"The refueling going on here has really been impressive to watch," said Maj. Eric Sutcliffe, 401st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron commander, who oversees the U.S. Air Force contingent of 18 people in the fuels flight. "The (equipment) was mostly designed for refueling helicopters but has been working for our tanker fleet. The entire operation has been a seamless integration, and we couldn't be happier."
The equipment has been performing well above anyone's expectations, according to Lelliot. With the ability to pump more than 2.7 million liters of fuel into any type of aircraft in a 24-hour period, the system has made its mark on the war, Lelliot said. So far, more than 45 million liters of fuel have been piped through the system to the tankers.
Once the fuel is down the pipeline, fuel specialists take over.
"We're responsible for inspecting the (aircraft) fuel tanks and making sure they're completely refueled," said Staff Sgt. Jake Way of the 186th Air Refueling Wing at Meridian, Miss., who is deployed to the 401st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The KC-135 can hold 209,000 pounds of fuel, but for this operation, it is typically filled with 150,000 pounds of fuel. That can refuel 10 to 15 aircraft, Way said.
The squadron airmen are also responsible for attaching a drogue to a KC-135 if it will be needed for a refueling mission. The drogue system is one of the three capabilities the 401st AEW has for refueling. The multi-point refueling system, the boom-drogue assembly and the hard boom allow for aerial refueling of any type of aircraft in the U.S. or allied inventory.
Refuelers take the fuel to fighters before they enter Iraq. FA-18 Hornets and F-14 Tomcats are assigned to both the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carriers stationed in the Mediterranean.
"On the northern Iraqi front, we've stepped up operations, which requires an increased number of (refuelers)," said Marine Maj. Bret Saunders, an FA-18 fighter pilot stationed on the USS Harry S. Truman. "Being able to handle this increased ops tempo is based mainly on our ability to get fuel. We need the capability to go long distances, have tactical ability and speed in order to come back successfully."
This would not be possible if the aircraft were not able to top off the fuel tanks before entering northern Iraq, he said.
The mission also would not be possible without the cooperation between American and British forces.
"We've established a fantastic working relationship between the services," said Lelliott. "We kind of have a 'hodge podge' of people, but we work like a well-oiled machine."
"We have more combat power in the Mediterranean right now than we did in all of World War II," said Vice Admiral Scott Fry, U.S. Navy 6th Fleet commander. "We're making history here. Your children will read about this operation in their history books one day." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)