Tanker problem forces US-bound F-22 Raptors to return to Germany

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., fly behind a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall Air Base, England Sept. 4, 2015, over the Baltic Sea. The U.S. Air Force has deployed four F-22 Raptors, one C-17 Globemaster III, approximately 60 Airmen and associated equipment to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. While these aircraft and Airmen are in Europe, they will conduct air training with other Europe-based aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson/Released)

The four F-22 Raptor jets will spend one more day in Europe, as their flight back to the U.S. was halted by a tanker failure.

The four F-22s that had arrived in Germany on Aug. 28, for the very first Raptor’s deployment in Europe, were scheduled to leave for their homebase, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, in the morning on Sept. 11.

However, the Raptor Package, departed from Spangdahlem Air Force Base, Germany, using radio callsign “Tabor 11,” was forced to return to “Spang” shortly after take-off as one of the supporting KC-135 tankers launched from RAF Mildenhall, UK, experienced a failure that prevented it from refueling the 5th Gen. jets.

The four stealth planes landed safely at Spangdahlem airbase but departed again in the afternoon for a short trip to RAF Mildenhall, where they have landed shortly before 15.30 GMT.

They will probably spend the night at “The Hall” before attempting again to cross the Pond on Sept. 12.


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. And this is news how? These events have been happening for YEARS without any articles written about it. Definitely not the first “coronet” delayed due to tanker issues and it won’t be the last. I guess this article proves, without a doubt, that the KC-135 is ready to fall out of the sky at any moment! Too bad there isn’t a new tanker in the works that we MUST have soon!

    • Some of us still find the articles interesting. No, I didn’t confuse this with a Reuters headline because this is an aviation interest blog. go troll the daily mail, CNN, and Daily Beast to question the validity of all their news stories.

      • Mr. Schaeffer, with all due respect, my intent was not to offend people who enjoy these articles. I am first and foremost, one of the biggest supporters of the KC-135, having flown and maintained them for many years. I get upset at what I perceive to be “sensationalized” journalism against what I consider one of the best aircraft the US military operates. I fear this article could plant the seed that the -135 as unreliable and unable to perform its basic mission, which is far from the truth. Worldwide, how many C-130, C-17, C-5 or KC-10 aircraft “failures” occurred on that day? How many of those made the news? I will agree that on a high profile mission, there should have been a backup tanker or two. But, I perceive this article as someone screaming “Fire” in a crowded movie theater. Yes the USAF needs a new tanker soon but let’s not give the impression that, for right now, the KC-135 is not up to task.

  2. Well whoopee! So the much-trumpeted deployment of the F-22’s was for a fortnight? I saw nothing elsewhere about them skulking back home again., so well done to The Aviationist. How terrified was Putin? Not much, I reckon.

    • It was no secret that these F-22s were not going to be there long. The whole purpose of the mission was to demonstrate that they could be rapidly and effectively deployed to Europe when needed (without being permanently based there), as well as to familiarize several NATO forces with how to operate alongside this 5th generation fighter. Within the limited scope planned at this time, the mission was a success, and I’m sure that more will be done regarding interoperability training in the US, and possibly in Europe again someday.

      As for Putin, pretty much nothing scares him except for Russian weakness and irrelevance, so I’m sure that a handful American fighters visiting Europe didn’t exactly fill him with terror. Rather than fortitude his attitude and actions more likely indicate imperialism and stupidity, but even so the knowledge that the F-22 is fully operational and can come to fight anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice is not something that he can simply ignore. The visit also served the purpose of reassuring NATO allies, and seems to have been effective in that.

  3. The USAF’s general tanker issues aside, this specific delay is no big deal, as they’re just returning home. It’s not an emergency situation, when additional assets could and presumably would be deployed to avoid a critical delay.

    What did people here expect of this mission? A permanent deployment of just four F-22s? Really? That the F-22s would be fighting? Well, not at this point, thank goodness. And somehow a delay of just one day (presumably) is unacceptable for the trip back home? Would you have them send a Europe-based tanker to the US and then have it fly back because it’s such a dire emergency?

    And no, I’m not ignoring the bigger tanker issue, but that’s its own thing. The USAF at least proved that the F-22 can be deployed with a limited amount of support–a single C-17 for a flight of four F-22s, plus tanker support–whenever and wherever needed. The Raptor had never even been to Europe before, so it was about time that it paid a visit, at least, and now people can have confidence that despite all of the previous bad press about this fighter and the ongoing questions and issues with its sibling/cousin the F-35, it really is ready for action.

    • I appreciate your point that the delay is not a particularly significant operational issue.

      But as you noted in your reply about the F-22 visit sending a message to Putin and reassuring NATO allies, this was a tremendously important symbolic event. It’s hard to feel confident the F-22s (or any other fighter) will come to NATO’s rescue when they are beholden to a vulnerable tanker fleet. It’s equally hard to feel threatened by the F-22 for the same reason.

      For a mission as politically important as this one I would indeed expect a ground spare to cover just such a contingency. Nearly every SR-71 mission had either ground or air spares. Most RC-135 “over-the-top” sorties had a least a ground spare, as did a wide variety of other sorties. You simply didn’t want to tell the DIRNSA or DDCI you couldn’t fly the mission because a tanker broke. I cannot believe the 100th couldn’t generate a ground spare. Now they look foolish and ill-prepared.

      We often tend to think in terms of elements of airpower rather than the entire spectrum. Putting this event in that broader context suggests a significant and undesirable degree of variation in operational readiness and capability to the detriment of foreign perceptions of American airpower.

  4. I like how everyone just assumes it was an issue with the tanker. Also, I like how everyone assumes a simple coronet requires a ground or air spare. They weren’t going to war! The were going home. Huge difference in priority and what is provided.

    • As an ex KC 135R tanker pilot I can assure you that you are correct. The first leg would have been refueled off of Cornwall then off of the Azores and another tanker would have rendezvoused off the US east coast. There would not be a backup tanker.

Comments are closed.