Extending combat airpower to all corners of the globe

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Marie Brown
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
Airmen with the Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Extender Aircraft Maintenance Unit here waste no time when answering the call to defend the nation -- even with little to no notice.

Although the KC-l0 Extender’s primary mission is aerial refueling, it can combine the tasks of a tanker and cargo aircraft by refueling fighters and simultaneously carry the fighter support personnel and equipment on overseas deployments.

“We are a refueler and we bring passengers and crew members to the fight,” said Tech. Sgt. Maurice, the Extender AMU flight chief currently deployed from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. “We make sure all coalition aircraft get the fuel needed to fight the fight.”

Completing a successful mission in which the KC-10 Extender delivers much-needed gas to help defend the nation begins with hard working Airmen made up of a team of crew chiefs and specialists.

Crew chiefs handle many facets of ground operations to include refueling, defueling, marshalling launching and recovering the aircraft.

“We go out normally thirty minutes before the flight,” said Airman 1st Class Taylor, a KC-10 Extender crew chief currently deployed from Travis Air Force Base, California. “We get power going, check all necessary lights for both flight and refueling operations. We then make sure the aircrews have everything they need, whether it is mission essential or non-mission essential items.”

Once the aircrew is ready, the crew chief will pull the stand out and get them on their way.

“Upon recovery, we prepare the spot making sure it is safe,” Taylor said. “We marshal them in, look over the aircraft, inspect it, refuel it and make sure it is ready for another mission.”

If any discrepancies are found during recovery that the crew chiefs are not able to handle, they get passed on to the other half of the team, the specialists.

Specialists consist of hydraulics, electrical-environmental, jet engine, instrument and flight control systems and communication/navigation shops that perform the specialized maintenance required to keep the Extender in the air.

“Specialists respond to ‘red balls’, which happen before flight, as well as delayed discrepancies,” said Senior Airman Will, an instrument and flight control system technician deployed from Travis AFB. “We troubleshoot and attempt to fix the problem quick enough that the plane takes off on time.”

A red ball is essentially any new maintenance issue that comes up just prior to an aircraft launch.

“Planes will also sometimes land with discrepancies, where a system malfunctions in flight, and that’s when we sort of take over after refueling is complete,” Will said. “We work out the issue so that it is capable for flight before the next takeoff.”

Whether it is responding to a red ball or an in-flight malfunction upon recovery, specialists stand ready to respond to a variety of maintenance issues.

“I work with avionic systems concerning instruments and flight control systems,” Will said. “I am responsible for maintaining all aspects of flight controls, including flight deck instrumentation.”

Being part of the Extender AMU leaves the Airmen with a sense of accomplishment, knowing they are capable of something far beyond their own expectations.

“If I were to ask myself three years ago what I thought I would be capable of, I would generously be shooting far below what we are doing out here right now,” Will said. “The responsibility is something that feels empowering and it’s honorable.”

With that honor comes the reward of knowing that even in just a small part these Airmen are enabling the mission to happen each and every day.

“The most rewarding aspect for me is knowing that I am a critical part of a mission that saves the lives of coalition troops' on the ground and in the air,” Taylor said. "Knowing the fuel I give to the KC-10 Extender is then passed directly to the fighters and bombers that put bombs where they need to go to destroy the enemy is a great privilege."

Since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve the KC-10 Extender has supplied over 150 million pounds of fuel to a variety of U.S. and allied military aircraft.

“We are the main aircraft here that supplies fuel to all the other coalition aircraft,” Maurice said. “We take pride in that we deliver a lot of gas every day, and we take pride in our ability to support that mission.”

A lot of things can drive a unit to success, but for the Extender AMU they attribute their success to everyone in their shop.

“Teamwork and dedication to the job drives our Airmen to success,” Maurice said. “We have to work as a team because that’s what drives us here and keeps us motivated to keeping the coalition fighters in the fight.”