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380AEW Article

Fueling the Coalition

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Chad Warren
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

High above the desert, Airman 1st Class Mallory, of the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, settles into her chair and begins flipping switches and checking gauges, preparing for the upcoming rendezvous. From her rear-facing seat in the back of a KC-10 Extender, she opens the rear refueling hatch and the ground below comes into view. A few moments later, she is on the radio with an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, giving distance cues as the aircraft nears the refueling boom.

“20 feet... 10 feet... 5 feet... contact,” she says, as the aircraft join together and the transfer of fuel begins. Within minutes, the exchange is complete and the receiving aircraft is loaded with enough fuel to continue its mission.


The 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron offloads an average of 5.2 million pounds of fuel each week in support of operations in the Middle East, Central Asia and Northern Africa.


“[Air refueling] enables us to achieve all three of the AFCENT priorities, which are to deliver air power, defend the region and create partnerships for the future,” said Lt. Col. Aaron, of the 908th EARS. “First and foremost it helps us sustain our air assets by being able to station those farther from hostilities.”


The crew of the KC-10 works as a single unit to ensure not only U.S. aircraft are completing the mission, but to ensure coalition partners have the support they need as well.


“Flying with the coalition is pretty much seamless,” said Aaron. “The coalition aircrews are extremely professional so really there’s almost no difference whether it’s a coalition receiver rolling up behind the KC-10 or a Unites States receiver.”


From the pilot and copilot up front, to the boom operator in the rear and the flight engineer monitoring the aircraft and fuel transfer during the mission, communication is key to making the transfers go smoothly. When the aircraft adjusts course, the boom operator must know in order to adjust accordingly. During refueling, any aircraft receiving fuel must communicate and precisely mirror the path and movement of the KC-10. The entire approach, contact and release takes only a few minutes but the communication during that narrow window is critical.


“Up here, it’s all about communication between the crew and with the aircraft outside,” said Master Sgt. Phil, a flight engineer for the 908th EARS.


As the flight engineer, Phil monitors the condition of the aircraft before, during and after flight, as well as assists the pilots with navigation and adjustments, and monitors the fuel being offloaded by the boom operator to the other aircraft.


According to Phil, the mission of the other aircraft in the area of responsibility would not be possible without fuel in the air. It takes several air-refueling rendezvous just for one F-15 to reach the target area, he said, and the KC-10 crew builds that air bridge to make air coalition missions possible.


(For security reasons, last names have been omitted.)