French C-135FR Tanker Refuels U.S. Air Force B-52 Bomber Over Europe In Rare International Refueling Operation

Sep 28 2017 - 8 Comments

This is something you don’t see too often: a U.S. Stratofortress bomber refueled by a foreign tanker.

On Sept. 25, a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, refueled from a French Air Force C-135FR belonging to the Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 2/91 “Bretagne” from Istres.

B-52 bombers from the 2nd BW are currently deployed to Europe for three weeks to support Bomber Assurance and Deterrence operations (BAAD).

A French air force KC-135 Stratotanker, refuels a B-52 Stratofortress over Europe Sept. 25, 2017. The Stratofortress is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom in support of bomber assurance and deterrence operations. U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe. Bomber missions demonstrate the credibility and flexibility of the military’s forces to address today’s complex, dynamic and volatile global security environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia)

Based on the footage released by the U.S. Air Force, the C-135FR involved in the refueling mission was the example 471/31-CB that was tracked online while flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea in bound to the refueling area over the Mediterranean Sea via Mode-S/ADS-B transponder (H/T to @CivMilAir for catching the tanker)

Part of the track followed by a FAF C-135FR during the Sept. 25 mission tracked via Mode-S. Image credit: @CivMilAir

Although U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe, the bombers are almost always refueled by U.S. Air Force KC-135s or KC-10s.

Still, B-52s can be refueled by other types of tankers for testing or operative purposes.

For instance, an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767 tanker (s/n 14-01) refueled a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52H-150-BW Stratofortress (s/n 60-0036) over California’s Mojave Desert on Mar. 5, 2007, as part of the tanker’s flying boom testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California (USA).

An Italian Air Force Boeing 767 tanker refuels an Edwards B-52 over California’s Mojave Desert on March 5, 2007. The tanker successfully extended its fifth generation, fly-by-wire air refueling boom and transferred fuel for the first time to another aircraft. (Photo by Jet Fabara)

And, as proved by Sept. 25 mission, the “Buff” can be refueled by the French C-135FR that is quite similar to the U.S. KC-135. Usually the FAF tankers operate with a basket attached to the flying boom since FAF planes use the hose and drogue system and get the fuel through an IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe.

The aging fleet of C-135FRs, the French variant of the C-135 used as dual-role tanker/cargo and troop carrier aircraft, will be replaced with A400M and A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) aircraft. The latter, called the “Phénix” when in service, has been ordered in nine examples by France (plus an additional three that have not yet been confirmed.)

 

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