It is the beginning of June, in Poland 2 main exercises are being held – ANAKONDA16 and BALTOPS16. In the morning I arrive to 33rd Air Base in Powidz to take part in an exciting mission – air refueling of polish F-16s from the USAF KC-135 tanker.
After a joint briefing of 33. TrAB and the United States Air Force, we go to the apron, where there four KC-135 are deployed for 2 weeks – two from 434th and two from 100th Air Refueling Wing. These machines are performing AAR operations Air-to-Air Refueling – refueling in the air) over Poland with airplanes of over the Baltic States. 434th ARW is a unit from the USA (Grissom Air Base), while the 100th ARW is the unit of the USAF stationed in England (RAF Mildenhall AB).
“My” KC-135 belongs to the 100th Bomb Group (subunit of 100th ARW). I greet the crew, who are pilot, co-pilot, technician and boom operator (called boomer). I receive instructions, including how to control the flow of oxygen in the mask or how to evacuate from aircraft in case of emergency. After safety briefing the crew fires APU, engines and later on we are taxiing to runway. At the flight level of the 26 000 ft. I get up from my seat and look around the plane. „Passenger part”, if one can call it like that, although more would fit the name „cargo sector” goes through whole fuselage – the plane looks like a typical Boeing during the technical check, when removed are all the seats inside and only thermal insulation and cables are left. The only available seats are benches along the walls. In the middle there is a place for cargo loads. This is not big comfort, but it is military aircrafts – here in the first place one puts the utility. In the tail boomer has its position and station.
Generally there are two systems of AAR (one, called drogue, was described in PLAR 12/2015). Boom is a rigid connection of tanker to fighter through special arm with wings sliding from its telescopic tube. Here boomer controls the position of the tube relative to the fighter as well as he must fit in the special fuel hole.
We’re flying to one of the MARA (Military Air Refueling Area) zones, where we expect to refuel polish F-16s. When they arrive, I go with boomer to his station. We lay down on special shelves in the tail of the aircraft, the operator raises the cover and activate the boom, leaving it slightly below the tail. The first F-16 is slowly approaching. When it is about 10 meters from us with an open fuel system, boomer directs tube into the hole. He must be very precise so as not to hit fighter in the airframe. Once connected, we hear a hissing characteristic „tic: and lights go green. Aircraft must fly now perfectly similar to each other, circling in the track racetrack, which requires very precise piloting. Boomer controls the flow and pressure of fuel, while being ready for immediate disconnection from the fighter. We’re flying like this for about 5 minutes. Operator disconnects the boom, which again is accompanied by hissing. A pilot of F-16 is waving to us and returning to their the tasks. This procedure is repeated few times with each plane, so that pilots can repeatedly train this maneuver.
The whole mission has done great impression on me. In addition, this emotions at the sight of fighter with white-red flag on the wing, flying so close…thrilling.
Our partners during photoshoot were: