MacDill KC-135 provides training for next generation of Airmen

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  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Four turbofans, mounted under 35-degree swept wings, power a MacDill KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft to takeoff in support of aerial refueling training for the U.S. Air Force’s next generation of Airmen.

Fourteen Mobility Airmen from the 6th Operations Group and 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron provided aerial refueling support to F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 182nd Fighter Squadron, Kelly Field, Texas, Jan. 27-31, 2020.

“We flew one KC-135R, call sign DREW211, to Kelly Field for a week-long training and operations support for the 182nd Fighter Squadron,” said Capt. Craig Wojtkiewicz, mission commander pilot from the 6th OG. “The crew consisted of two instructor pilots, one co-pilot, two aircraft commander upgrade students, two instructor boom operators and four mission certification training boom operators.”

The 182nd Fighter Squadron is an Air National Guard unit that belongs to the 149th Fighter Wing. The unit traces back to 1943 when the 396th Fighter Squadron was activated during World War II.

Today, the 182nd develops and trains the next generation of F-16C fighter pilots, both active, guard and reserve. One facet of their training is learning how to in-air refuel from the various tanker aircraft available in the Air Force inventory.         

“Each day, we would plan our mission, brief and launch our KC-135 for a five to six hour-long sortie,” added Wojtkiewicz. “We would meet the first wave of F-16s in the air refueling track and refuel each F-16 fighter aircraft piloted by student and instructor pilots.”

After completing the first wave of refueling, the Stratotanker returned to Kelly Field and for two-hours, the crew of DREW211 practiced aircraft landings, also known as, “touch-and-go’s” for their own training and proficiency.

“During this time, we would also practice emergency procedures including manually extending the aircraft’s landing gear and wing flaps—important procedures which are critical training items for the younger boom operators,” Wojtkiewicz said.

Once the appropriate time came, the KC-135 would depart Kelly Field again and return to the air refueling track where a second wave of F-16s would arrive to practice aerial refueling during nighttime conditions.

“We refueled six to eight fighters during the day and six to eight at night,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Jordan, an instructor boom operator from the 6th OG. “We were able to maximize our training, completing tasks 50 percent faster than we normally do.”

After refueling the second wave of F-16s, the KC-135 would land at Kelly Field and debrief the day’s sortie with the crew and plan for the next day of flying operations. Three aircraft maintenance Airmen from the 6th AMXS were part of crew DREW211 to repair any deficiencies with the aircraft and prepare it for each day’s sortie.

“As flying crew chiefs, we inspect the aircraft and provide maintenance support while it’s on the road,” said Tech. Sgt. Patrick Balu, a flying crew chief from the 6th AMXS. “Sometimes, we have minor issues with the aircraft and when these systems go bad, we fix them by referencing our technical orders or calling back to home station and following through.”

Working closely with the instructor pilots of the 182nd FS, DREW211 supported the completion of aerial refueling training for 18 F-16 students and the requalification of 15 F-16 instructor pilots.

“We were also able to accomplish fighter air refueling qualifications for our four mission certification training boom operators and qualify one of our aircraft commander upgrade candidates for his check ride,” said Wojtkiewicz. “During normal operations, this amount of training would take up to two months to accomplish.”

Before departing Kelly Field to return to MacDill AFB, the crew invited eleven students from the Career Enlisted Aviator Center of Excellence at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to tour the KC-135 aircraft. These Airmen graduated the Enlisted Aircrew Undergraduate Course and begun their Basic Boom Operator Course where they will soon be flying on KC-135s as boom operators.

“We were able to mentor these students, answer their questions and impress upon them the responsibilities they would soon hold as boom operators and generally grow their excitement for the jobs they were about to learn,” added Wojtkiewicz. “The inspiration it instilled in them clearly showed as all eleven students passed their final test the following week with flying colors.”

The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 60 years. This unique asset enhances the Air Force's capability to accomplish its primary mission of global reach.

“The crew of DREW211 demonstrated how much training can be accomplished with a determined tanker crew and instructor force,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Osgood, 6th OG chief of training. “The 6th OG training section remains ready for the next opportunity to train the next generation of pilots and Airmen!”