McConnell tankers enable first F-35 European deployment

An U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II refuels over North America in route to its deployed location in Europe, April 15, 2017. The U.S. Air Force deployed the F-35A Lightning IIs, approximately 250 Airmen and associated equipment to RAF Lakenheath, England, on a long-planned training deployment to conduct air training with other Europe based aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

An U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II refuels over North America in route to its deployed location in Europe, April 15, 2017. The U.S. Air Force deployed the F-35A Lightning IIs, approximately 250 Airmen and associated equipment to RAF Lakenheath, England, on a long-planned training deployment to conduct air training with other Europe based aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- History happened April 14 as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightening II deployed to Europe for the first time carried by the backbone of the aerial refueling fleet, the KC-135 Stratotanker.

 

“The mission of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing is to refuel the fight,” said Col. Albert Miller, 22nd ARW commander. “This particular flight was a significant milestone of the F-35 program, and demonstrates the U.S. Air Force's global reach, something our total force team at McConnell enables every day, making rapid, global mobility a reality.”

 

The F-35 deployed to Europe for the first time from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The multi-role fighter is deployed to maximize training opportunities, affirm enduring commitments to NATO allies and deter any actions that destabilize regional security.

 

The KC-135 from McConnell was just a first step in building an air bridge to deploy the Air Force’s newest weapon’s platform for a training exercise with U.S. allies in Europe. Multiple refueling aircraft from four different bases provided more than 400,000 pounds of fuel for the fighters’ flight from the U.S. to Europe.

 

“It was exciting being able to contribute to the mission directly,” said Capt. Ben Hessney, 349th Air Refueling Squadron aircraft commander for the flight.

 

Hessney added, that a large amount of effort went into planning the success of the mission.

 

While this effort was a historic one, Miller stressed the value aerial refueling adds to all joint flying missions.

 

“The tip of the spear is not thrown, but carried by a tanker,” he said. “The might of our Air Force is in our ability to deliver effects anywhere in the world in a matter of hours.  It's the KC-135, and soon to be the KC-46, which allows the United States to carry aid to our allies or deliver kinetic power to our enemies in a short amount of time."