Turn ‘n’ Burn’s Alan Kenny had a flight during March with Europe’s only United States Air Force gas giver, the 100th Air Refuelling Wing.
When entering the home of the 100th ARW there is a motto on the hallway wall. It proudly says NKAWTG – ‘Nobody Kicks Ass Without Tanker Gas’. A bold but true statement. The fuel given by the tankers to the receiving aircraft helps prolong missions and enables aircraft to have heavier payloads and range.
The 100th ARW has been at RAF Mildenhall for over two decades. The squadron arrived in Europe on 1st February 1992. From 1976, the 100th Air Refuelling Wing was stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California before deactivation in 1983. Prior to the re-activation in 1992, the squadron operated the Minuteman II missile and was named the 100th Air Division at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Throughout their time in Europe, they have given millions of gallons of fuel to other aircraft including the B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress, Air Force 1 and numerous fighter aircraft.
The 100th traces its roots back to World War II when it was named the 100th Bombardment Group. It was based at RAF Thorpe Abbotts near Diss, Norfolk and operated the B-17 Flying Fortress. Due to the nature of the missions, the squadron sustained very heavy losses throughout its time in WWII. Other squadrons called the 100th Bomb Group the Bloody ‘Hundredth’. It is the only current operational USAF wing that is allowed to display the square D tail code of it’s WWII predecessors.
The first refuelling sortie of the day was scheduled to be with an MC-130J from the 352nd Special Operations Group, also based at RAF Mildenhall. However, the KC-135 Stratotanker was still on the ground at the allotted time as thick fog meant the exchange couldn’t take place. While waiting for the fog to lift, the crew were preparing for the second refuelling sortie of the day with two flights of four F-15E Strike Eagles from neighbouring RAF Lakenheath.
With the briefing completed and the fog slowly lifting, the crew entered the bus to take them to their aircraft. The aircraft for the day was KC-135R Stratotanker 59-1492 ‘Boss Lady’. The jet has artwork on the nose remembering their fallen brothers of the 100th Bomb Group in WWII. The aircraft also has the 100th ARW crest. The crew briefed the passengers on the emergency and evacuation procedures and then all aboard prepared themselves for departure. There was a slight delay waiting for Bandit Control at RAF Lakenheath to confirm the receivers would be going up.
Once confirmation was given, the captain received clearance from the tower and lined up for departure. The CFM-56 turbofan engines on the KC-135R spooled up and powered the aircraft along the runway. The nose was pulled skyward via the control column and the four engined tanker was airborne.
Within 20 minutes of being in the air, somewhere over north Yorkshire, the first trade of the day appeared on the left side of the tanker. At first two F-15E Strike Eagles were visible, then four as they moved closer to join up on the left wing. The leader, 91-0302, left the echelon formation to join up on the boom. The aircraft moved behind the tanker and slowly edged forwards. The pilot watched for his cues underneath the KC-135, while the trainee boomer guided the boom into the F-15E receptacle. The process was completed with ease on both sides.
It wasn’t long after the first flight of four Strike Eagles had completed refuelling and departed, that the second flight appeared on the left wing. Again the process of precise movements and minute speed changes took place. It was fascinating to watch and somewhat surreal to see a multi-million dollar fighter jet feet just below the tanker, 22,000ft above Yorkshire. Each of the thirsty receivers took 10,000lbs of fuel which enabled them to continue their training on the ranges in the North Sea.
Once refuelling was completed and fuel offloaded, the tanker pilots turned for home. Less than 20 minutes later and the aerial refueller was on approach to RAF Mildenhall. The transiting to the exchange area, SPIDER, and offloading fuel to the F-15E Strike Eagles and returning to base took short of two hours. The crews have a great job and do an even better one.
The receivers were:
Eagle 1 91-0302 – 492nd
Eagle 2 91-0315 – 492nd
Eagle 3 91-0307 – 492nd
Eagle 4 98-0133 – 492nd
Tricky 1 91-0318 – 494th
Tricky 2 96-0202 – 492nd
Tricky 3 91-0312 – 492nd
The author would like to thank Christine Griffiths of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing Public Affairs and the crew of Quid 72.