Public affairs Airman flies with tanker crew

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenneth W. Norman
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
I recently had a change of scenery when I ventured on my first TDY. I spent five days at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., covering exercise Cactus Starfighter.

During my TDY, I experienced a piece of what it is like to be a member of an aircrew. For five days the crew of a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 54th Air Refueling Squadron took me under their wing and treated me as one of their own. The aircrew's mission was to conduct air refueling for F-16 Fighting Falcons during the exercise and my mission was to cover it as best as I could.

Regardless of whether you're an Air Force pilot, journalist or a police officer, we are all connected to each other through the mission. It doesn't matter which Air Force base you are from, we all have the same core values and are fighting to accomplish the same mission.

We arrived at Luke AFB Dec. 13, and on our way, the aircrew refueled a formation of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs.

Dec. 14, I was up by 5 a.m. to get ready to board the aircraft. During the mission briefing I was given call sign "Nikon" because call sign "PA" was not original enough, according to the aircrew. I thought it was awesome to have a call sign of my own. It made me feel like one of the crew.

Cactus Starfighter kicked off Dec. 15. More than 30 F-16s launched from Luke AFB. Staff Sgt. Eric Leclerc, 54th ARS boom operator, refueled 12 Fighting Falcons in about an hour. The air refueling went smoothly and before I knew it, we were ready to land.

Watching the crew refuel F-16s was like nothing I have ever seen. The F-16s were so close to the aircraft, I felt as though I could reach out and touch them.

The precision of air refueling impressed me. The F-16s moved flawlessly from the left wing of the KC-135 Stratotanker to the rear and flew into position right underneath the boom. With the steady hands of both the boom operator and the F-16 pilot, refueling was accomplished.

Not only did the aircrew treat me as one of their own, they were also more than happy to explain and teach me about everything they were doing. The pilots explained to me what the different colors and lines meant on the navigation screen of the aircraft and explained calls on the radio. Tech. Sgt. Lee Adkins, 54th ARS boom operator, even allowed me to lie in the boom pod to get a feel for what it is like to conduct air refueling.

The aircrew reviews so many checklists before during and after a flight that it is hard to follow along. There is a checklist for engine start-up, taxiing, take-off, air refueling and landing.

The overall numbers for air refueling during the TDY were 37 receivers, 57 contacts - a contact is counted every time the boom connects with the receiving aircraft - and 118,100 gallons of gas off-loaded, according to Maj. Denver J. Collins, 54th ARS pilot.

I think of myself as very lucky to have been a part of this TDY. Working with Airmen from a different base showed me the connection between all Airmen - we are all working together to complete the Air Force mission.