Air refueling seen from the cockpit of an E-3 AWACS makes near midair collision video difficult to explain

Few days ago, the video uploaded to YouTube of a near midair collision between a NATO E-3 AWACS aircraft and KC-135 Stratotanker went viral.

The video, taken from the perspective of the KC-135’s boom operator, shows a NATO Sentry approach the tanker’s boom during a seemingly routine refuel operation. The attempt fails, the E-3 moves a bit too far to the side of the tanker and then pitches up, nearly colliding with the tail of the Stratotanker, before the E-3 performs an evasive maneuver to avoid the collision.

Some more details about the episode have emerged since the footage was first published on The Aviationist and several more website.

First of all, the episode occurred several years ago.

Then, the refueling jet operated by the 507th and 137th Air Refueling Wings at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Anyway, the following video shows a (successful and for this reason “uneventful”) air-to-air refueling (AAR) operation from the E-3 pilot’s perspective.

Although it has nothing to do with the near midair collision, it gives an idea of how close the two large planes are during AAR ops. Making the unexpected Sentry’s climb that almost led to a disaster even more difficult to explain.

Even if the receiver moved away from the boom the E-3 crew still had the refueler insight. Why did they climb to get back in position that fast almost hitting the KC-135 tail?

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Hi David. You’ll find the answer in the comments section of another link you posted earlier:

    GCD47’s comment: ….Because the E-3 came too close to the tail of the tanker, the pressure of the E-3’s bow wave pushed the tanker’s tail up. This caused the to tanker’s nose to pitch down before the autopilot could correct for the increase in pressure from the E-3’s bow wave (which is what we see in the video)

  2. As noted elsewhere, going by the horizon just visible at the top of the view, it appears that the KC-135 pitches down rather than the E-3 nosing up. Then the E-3 reacts by diving, to avoid a collision.

  3. I’ve heard on other message boards, but am not sure if factual, that the E-3 got a little too close on the failed attempt and the increased air pressure between the E-3 and 135 caused the tail of the tanker to raise, actually making the tanker descend into the E-3 and the Sentry took evasive action.

    • I heard that, too. Guess I’ll have to leave this one with the experts, it’s hard to tell if you don’t have experience with this.

      It just goes to show how easy things can go south in a hurry. It’s an easy thing for people to take for granted because it goes off without a hitch so often.

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