Reserve KC-10 tanker aircrew trains with RAF fighter pilots

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Donna T. Jeffries
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
A KC-10A aircrew from the 78th Air Refueling Squadron here refueled several Royal Air Force Typhoon GR4Fs over the North Sea June 6 during an infrequent air refueling training mission.

The Typhoons were from the RAF 6 and 1(F) Squadrons, RAF Leuchars, United Kingdom.

The training is vitally important for all involved, as it's not often that Air Force Reserve Command tanker crews have the opportunity to refuel Typhoons outside of real world combat missions, said Master Sgt. Alan Crosby, KC-10 flight engineer and mission planner for the training flight.

"Often, the first time an RAF pilot sees a KC-10 is in combat over Afghanistan, and that's not a great place to learn." said Crosby. "These pilots are professionals, and they are going to get the gas, but it's always nice to get a little practice before you have to deploy."

His sentiments were echoed by many.

"It's good to get the experience in now when it's not a combat situation" said RAF Flt. Lt. Bruce McConnell, a 6 Squadron Typhoon pilot.

"Any opportunity for us to work with any of the NATO allies is good training," said Lt. Col. Todd Brace, a 78th ARS KC-10 pilot. "Reserve pilots often only see the Typhoon during wartime or major exercises so we welcome the opportunity to provide training on their refueling procedures because we also gain some training on their airframe. I've flown the KC-10 for almost 22 years and have never refueled the Eurofighter before," Brace said.

Preparing for an upcoming first-time deployment to the Southeast Asia, boom operator Senior Airman Gregory Coburn took advantage of this opportunity to refuel the airframe he's also never seen before.

"It was good to get this experience now when it's not a combat situation," said Coburn. "I will need it for the future since I may see them again during my deployment."

Crosby agrees.

The skies were bright and sunny for this occasion which marked the fourth time within 18 months that the units have trained together, said Crosby.

"We need to practice refueling quite often - because we need to refuel for Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) North missions.

"Every month or so, we have aircraft launching to intercept Russian long-range aviation assets which are entering the UK. We will tank (RAF term for air refueling) during those sorties because they could be four or five hours long," said McConnell."

With alert duty as their primary role, McConnell said they need to be proficient at tanking and need to train often with air refueling from all tankers.

What makes the KC-10 so unique is its versatility. While its primary mission is aerial refueling, the KC-10 can combine the tasks of tanker and cargo aircraft by refueling fighters while carrying the fighters' support people and equipment during overseas deployments. The aircraft can transport up to 75 people and about 170,000 (76,560 kilograms) pounds of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles (7,040 kilometers). Without cargo, the KC-10's unrefueled range is more than 11,500 miles.

It's a nice aircraft to tank from because it's a large aircraft with a nice stable drogue and lots of fuel and lots of time airborne to provide us with the fuel, said McConnell.

In addition to the wing fuel tanks, the KC-10 has two large fuel tanks under the cargo floor, one under the forward lower cargo compartment and one under the rear compartment. Combined, the six tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds (160,200 kilograms) of fuel -- almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Using its advanced aerial refueling boom, or its drogue refueling system, the KC-10 can refuel a wide variety of U.S. and allied military aircraft. It is equipped with special lighting for night operations.

RAF Typhoon pilot Flt. Lt. Tori Turner, a new fighter pilot, received invaluable "work-up" or upgrade pilot training on this mission that laid groundwork for her combat skills, also chimed in on the 10's assets.

"I've' tanked off of the Voyager (Britain's newest tanker) and a while ago the Tristar (Britain's former tanker) just before it went out of service," said Turner. "The KC-10 is similar to the Tristar, but has a much bigger basket (drogue) than the Voyager. It's a nice platform and the hose isn't crazy long so you have time to get settled into place to receive the fuel," she said.

The scenario is one that both units would like to see happen again since it allows them to not only work together in the sky, but to also interact and learn from on another once they land.

"We may refuel them over in the desert but we don't get the opportunity to talk with them afterwards, to debrief and build ties. The RAF is a smaller Air Force than ours (U.S.) and being reservists, we have the continuity to be here for a long time and will have the chance to see the same guys and learn from each other and actually build lasting friendships," said Crosby.

The KC-10 crew said they would like to have the squadron train with their NATO partners once a quarter and include a ground debrief or get-together once the mission is complete to cement lessons learned.