We have taken part in an aerial refueling mission aboard a KC-10 Extender with the 305th AMW. Here is how it went.
It’s early and the darkness feels more like night than day. Flight crew gathers at the 305th Air Mobility Wings (AMW) base operations, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL), NJ. Paperwork in order and mission plan briefed, we leave base ops for the aircraft. The sun cracks the horizon as we arrive at the KC-10 Extender for pre-flight. The aircraft crew chief and maintenance team are well into preparing the mission aircraft. It is clear they were at work long before our arrival. Despite the hour, the ramp is alive and aircraft are already in the circuit. JBMDL never really sleeps. Time passes quickly, and with pre-flight complete the two KC-10s on this mission taxi together to launch.
With multiple missions in store the early morning will stretch into afternoon, afternoon into night and come full circle to dawn. The interior of the 305th AMW KC-10 becomes my world. Cockpit, seating area, cargo hold and refueling station. “Can Do” is more than a motto for the 305th AMW.
Two days and three missions later “Can Do” becomes “Job Done.” Flights of 6 to near 10 hours will cover distant States, Florida, Louisiana and Missouri. The Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) missions will support a diversity of platforms; fighters, attack, transports, bombers and include both U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Navy (USN) assets.
The 305th AMW deploys airlift and refueling capability from America’s Eastern gateway in support of USAF and Department of Defense global objectives. Utilizing the KC-10 Extender they are the enabler of the Global Reach of the USAF.
The KC-10 Extender offers long range, boom, hose/drogue capability and extensive fuel capacity (356,000 lbs – almost twice that of the KC-135 Stratotanker). Given these capabilities, the KC-10 is typically utilized when moving aviation assets across continent or from one continent to the other. In many cases, the KC-10 “tows” a group of aircraft while packing the required flight personnel and ground equipment across the ocean/continent on deployments.
Tankers don’t have the sizzle of fighters or bombers. They are one of the more mundane aircraft types in the inventory. However, when it comes to global reach or deploying an effective Strike or Offensive Counter Air/Defensive Counter Air (OCA/DCA) force – tankers are critical. Indispensable.
Carefully planned and choreographed missions require frequent AAR as part of the routine. Yet there are those situations where Close Air Support (CAS) or OCA/DCA missions conspire to create “danger low fuel conditions.” In moments like those there is no sweeter sight to a pilot than pulling up under the tanker and looking through the viewing window into the face of the air refueler. No words can describe that feeling – on either side of the boom.
The entire AAR paradigm is an interesting one. Mobile fuel, deployed on location to best facilitate the mission of the receiver. This makes the Tanker community the ultimate service organization. Bottom line – Tankers will go to any end to ensure their “customer” can complete their mission. Counterpart to the 305th AMW where 32 of 59 USAF KC-10s are based, is the 60th AMW of Travis AFB on the West Coast. No less vital in their role are the near 400 KC-135s in the USAF inventory.
Beyond AAR, the 305th’s mission includes delivery of cargo and personnel to combatant commanders abroad, VIP transport, cargo transport, dignified transfer. However, make no mistake – AAR is the primary role and the 305th AMW strives for excellence in enabling the rapid, global mobility of the USAF.
Excellence is people driven, and starts with teamwork. Flight crews typically gather for briefing 90 minutes prior to the flight, and move quickly to the KC-10 Extender for pre-flight. The aircraft Crew Chief and maintenance team is already on site ensuring all systems are go – and stay that way until the door is closed and the stairs are pulled. They are the last to leave the aircraft before launch and the first to greet the aircraft on arrival. The 305th Maintenance Group works 24/7 to ensure aircraft are mission ready.
While unique to me, the “mission saturation” I experience is the norm for the 305th AMW and reveals their pulse. The missions include crew from a variety of units including the 2nd Aerial Refueling Squadron (ARS), 32nd ARS and 305 Operations Support Squadron (OSS).
After take-off we unite with the lead KC-10 and fly in a loose trailing formation. Flying in any kind of formation adds complexity and interest. First stop, on location off the coast of Virginia to refuel F-22 Raptors from the 1st FW (Joint-Base Langley-Eustis) and F/A-18 Super Hornets (NAS Oceana). The aircraft have been mixing it up in a Red Air/Blue Air exercise. With fuel delivered we head south within reach of Miami.
C-17 Globemaster IIIs from the 437th AW of Charleston, SC join up for some boom time.
On the return north the two KC-10s work “Extender to Extender” skills. The constant skills training and requirements ensure crews remain proficient in all aspects of their role.
Day two we depart JBMDL in another KC-10 two ship. One KC-10 meets with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs of the 122nd FW “Blacksnakes” of the Indiana ANG. Our aircraft goes south to meet with a “BUFF” or more formally, B-52H Stratofortress from the 96th BS out of Barksdale AFB.
Then we are back to JBMDL for a brief break on the ground, and into another KC-10 for a night mission refueling 3 B-2 Spirits somewhere over Missouri. Two of the three bombers in the USAF Global Strike Command in one day. Two of the three frontline stealth aircraft in the USAF inventory in two days. This is life in the 305th.
In the now familiar confines of the KC-10 it starts to sink in. The 305th AMW, the USAF is TEAM. Roles may be “flashy” – or not. Doesn’t matter. Everybody has a purpose and contributes to achieve the greater mission. It may be training, it could be combat. Doesn’t matter, it is all very real. People and Mission.
Units like the 305th AMW go about this day in and day out. It never stops. Whether fueling aircraft or delivering cargo the satisfaction comes from enabling the mission. Missions span the sphere of humanitarian, training, combat operations, operational support, VIP transit and beyond.
The boom operators like SMSGT C. Wise, MSgt J. Stockwell, or TSgt A. Sochia reveal the impact on their lives. Mesmerizing AAR operations, day or night, watching fighters or aircraft as surreal as B-2s slide up for fuel – that’s not it. One of the operators recalls an AAR mission over the Middle East. They remained on station to fuel an aircraft that was involved in CAS, supporting troops involved in a firefight. Sometime later the boom operator learned that a neighbor from their hometown had been on the ground in that firefight. That’s it. Teamwork that transcends the service branch. Making a tangible impact when the chips are down. Another operator reflected on the times their KC-10 was utilized for a dignified transfer – bringing fallen service members home. No words can describe the impact, or meaningfulness of such missions.
Yes, the platforms, the experiences, the sights are incredible. However, clichés aside, it IS about the people. Enabling, respecting, serving. This is the heart of the Air Force, Air Mobility Command, and the 305th AMW. Their pulse is strong.
The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the 305th AMW, the 2nd ARS, 32nd ARS, 305th OSS, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs Team Shaun Eagan, SrA Lauren Russell, A1C Zachary Martyn, the exceptional team of in-flight refuelers and flight crews. All professionals through and through in the finest sense.