Posts Tagged ‘Aerial Refueling’

Robot Aircraft Refuel in the Air

February 20, 2009

The Air Force Research Lab has awarded a Boeing-led industry team a four-year, $49 million contract to continue work on the technology that will enable unmanned aerial vehicles to rendezvous autonomously with tanker aircraft and refuel, the company announced Feb. 5. These activities are Phase II of AFRL’s automated aerial refueling program. During Phase I, a Boeing-led team demonstrated that a single UAV could safely maneuver behind a tanker aircraft in refueling positions and conduct a breakaway maneuver. Under Phase II, the consortium, formally named the AAR integrator team, will coordinate flight tests that will include autonomous multi-ship operations and the actual delivery of fuel to a manned surrogate UAV. Boeing’s team includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, plus General Electric Aviation, Rockwell Collins, and Sierra Nevada Corp. Phase II will be divided into two parts to mature components to allow boom and receptacle and potentially probe and drogue refuelings.
Read more about robots at war:Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century

Air Mobility Command officials set all-time sortie record

December 14, 2008
C-17 Globemaster III

C-17 Globemaster III

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Officials from Air Mobility Command’s 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB set a new record for the number of sorties planned in a 24-hour period in November.

The new mark, set at 1,063 sorties, toppled the previous high of 1,051 set in February of 2008. 

Members of the 618th TACC are the execution arm for global airlift, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation operations. An AMC sortie is a single point-to-point flight by an aircraft under AMC operational control performing a warfighting, exercise, contingency or aeromedical evacuation requirement for the U.S. Transportation Command.

While the record is a significant marker, planning hundreds of missions daily is business as usual for the 618th TACC staff.

“We plan missions, resource the crews and the aircraft, task the missions to the wings and command and control the missions from here,” said Maj. Gen. Mark S. Solo, the 618th TACC commander.

Approximately 80 percent of the planned sorties go into full execution, General Solo said. Weather issues and maintenance can impact aircraft availability, which impacts the ability of the crew to perform the sortie. 

The enemy also gets a vote, he said.

On an average day the center staff plans or monitors about 900 sorties that support a range of requirements from personnel, cargo transport, air-to-air refueling, aeromedial evacuation and training.

“We’re here 24 hours a day, 366 days on a leap year giving our military global reach capability,” the general said. “If a military commander needs an asset or capability and the best route to get it to them is by air, it’s TACC’s job to fulfill that need.”

Members of the 618th TACC planned and coordinated more than 453,000 sorties in support of the war on terrorism, including personnel and cargo transport, air-to-air refueling and aeromedical evacuation missions. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the center’s efforts have moved 7.5 million passengers and 3.2 million tons of cargo, passed 1.1 billion gallons of fuel via air-to-air refueling and performed more than 121,000 patient movements for war on terrorism operations.

If required, the 618th TACC staff’s coordination efforts can seamlessly redirect missions to support humanitarian operations. Following hurricanes Ike and Gustav this summer, 618th TACC-directed sorties delivered 1379 tons of supplies and transported 9,045 residents to safety. Officials from the 618th TACC also made it possible in August to deliver 587 tons in humanitarian relief to residents displaced by fighting in the Republic of Georgia.

“An AMC mission takes off every 90 seconds from locations all around the world,” General Solo said. “Whether it’s evacuating injured troops, delivering supplies to our forces on the ground, performing humanitarian operations or providing air-to-air refueling, the 618th TACC plays a key role in our military’s operations every day.” 

Justin Brockhoff (AFNS)

Boeing Tanker Overpriced, Says Young

September 23, 2008
Aviation Calendar 2009

Aviation Calendar 2009

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John Young, defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, says that Boeing’s bid for the US Air Force’s new generation KC-X tanker aircraft was overpriced for the size of the aircraft. Rival Northrop Grumman’s bid was a full 3 billion Dollars lower. On top of that, Northrop was prepared to deliver the completed aircraft two years earlier than Boeing.

Read more on John Young’s interview. 

USAF Boomer Hits 6,000 Flying Hours

September 22, 2008
Boomers View

Boomer's View

The boom operator or Boomer on a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft has his own window to watch the refueling probe as tanker and receiving aircraft travel at hundreds of miles per hour. Put this exciting “Boomer’s View” on your wall as a poster or framed print. Visit the PatriArt Gallery today.

Almost 22 years ago – Dec. 17, 1986 to be precise – RaileR Cantrell joined the U.S. Air Force. After spending four years as an administrative troop, he decided he wanted to try a different career field, but wasn’t sure what. 

In 1990, while stationed at Hahn Air Base, Germany, after talking with retired Chief Master Sgt. Ron Cain, his mind was firmly made up. The chief was a boom operator who had flown missions in Vietnam, and it was he who was to change then-Senior Airman Cantrell’s life for the better. 

Tech. Sgt. Cantrell, 351st Air Refueling Squadron completed his 6,000th flying hour as a boom operator Aug. 18 – 18 years later. He says he would have reached that milestone earlier, but he was involved in a serious vehicle accident left him with major injuries and a forced gap of three years with no flying. 

He’s the only boom operator currently at RAF Mildenhall who has reached the 6,000 flying hours milestone. 

“It felt like a weight off my shoulders, knowing I’d finally reached this mark,” he said. “I realized my goal was attainable, but it took a whole lot of work – and I did it in a plane that’s more than 50 years old. 

“Adding this sortie to my tally was a great relief, but a good feeling, shaking hands with my crew members and thanking them for what they did.” 

And just for once, because he was about to reach the 6,000 flying hour milestone, Sergeant Cantrell got permission to choose his own aircrew for the flight. 

To help mark his achievement, he picked Maj. Kenneth Sierra, 351st ARS, as aircraft commander, Capt. Jeremiah Trawick, 351st ARS, as co-pilot (though unfortunately he couldn’t do the flight and was replaced by 1st Lt. Brian Morgan, 351st ARS), and Maj. Patrick Knott, 351st ARS, as navigator. 

“The crew I was able to choose for my sortie was chosen because they are some of the finest officers I have known,” he said. “The aircraft commander, Maj. Sierra, and I have flown before and he is one of the best aviators I’ve known. The co-pilot was a last minute change, so it was great to fly with a young and upcoming aviator.

“‘I’ve only worked with Maj. Knott (on the ground) and we’ve been trying to fly before this, but never had the opportunity. So having him on board as well was like having an original Strategic Air Command crew of four aviators, working to keep the peace.” 

It was the Air Force birthday, Sept. 18, in 1990, when the Woodstock warrior finished his training and went back to his unit (at Griffiss Air Force Base, Rome, New York). From then until December that year, he finished his qualifications and became a mission-qualified boom operator. 

“My instructor (then-) Tech. Sgt. Scott Stern, told me something I’ll never forget. He said, ‘I will impart a year’s worth of knowledge to you, in this short amount of time you’re here,’ – and he did, literally. I was the only boom who would bring my books home every night to study and read, because I had to be in briefings every couple of days.” 

Out of the 26 booms who started at the enlisted aeronautical undergraduate course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, only 13 finished, said Sergeant Cantrell. 

On Dec. 7 – the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – he left to deploy to Iraq for the Gulf War. 

“Over there, you learn more of the craft and the trade on your own. You learn what it is to be a boom operator; you don’t cut corners, you don’t cheat yourself out of what the checklist is telling you,” he said, explaining how he thought the experience helped him become better at his job. 

To this day, the Mildenhall boom operator credits the retired chief master sergeant with helping him achieve that goal in the first place. 

“To me, (retired) Chief Cain is a legend; he’s the only boom I know who flew 500 combat sorties in Vietnam – that’s quite an accomplishment. It was because of him I became a boom operator,” the Woodstock, Ga., native said. 

Sergeant Cantrell is the last original member of the 351st ARS, when the unit was set up at RAF Mildenhall in 1992, along with the 100th Air Refueling Wing. He was first stationed here from September 1992 to October 1995. 

“Because of RAF Mildenhall’s history, we had the nose art put on all the planes; we had the Box D on the plane and we had a letter signed by the Queen (Elizabeth II) so we could put the crown (which is part of the Royal Air Force patch for RAF Mildenhall) on the tail – you can’t put the crown anywhere unless you had permission. 

“Along with the crown and the station patch, there are nine white stars on the tail flash which signify the nine original jets we brought over here in 1992,” he said. “When we do the static displays for base tours, I like to go and talk to some of the guys, because I have a history background. I’ve always wanted to come to England and studied World War II aviation in the European theatre, so to come over here and actually meet so many of the World War II veterans from the RAF is something I’ll never forget. 

“I love doing the tours – especially with the RAF guys – because they are all very knowledgeable, and I love listening to their stories. I’ll never forget when one of the guys got to talking about one of the missions when they (as RAF pilots in World War II) went into France to free a lot of the (prisoners of war). 

“To see the guy was amazing,” he added. “He was looking at me and all of a sudden he got that stare, and he was running that reel right back in his mind, playing that whole tape. He was sitting there telling me what was going on as he remembered flying the plane to rescue these guys, and he was telling me their names.
“I remember the movies they’ve made of it, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh – that was him!’ So to meet them is an honor.” 

During his first nine years as a boom operator, Sergeant Cantrell spent four-and-a-half years “on the road.” 

“I’ve gone almost completely round the earth – I’m about 3,000 miles away from doing that,” he said. 

While racking up his 6,000 flying hours, he’s been to 48 states in America and to more than 65 countries. “Only the Thunderbirds have got me beat,” he laughed. 

In July 2001 he became a school house instructor at Altus Air Base, Okla., and was there until September 2005, where he became a master instructor and was able to impart his knowledge to other, more junior enlisted people wanting to become boom operators. 

“You’re able to mold these guys into becoming boom operators by showing them how to do refueling in the air. We had simulators, but they are nothing like doing it for real – being in the back of a plane going 300 to 400 miles per hour, showing your student how to (hook up the boom and refuel a plane); there’s nothing like it.” 

The 351st ARS technical sergeant said when it came time for the flight that would push him beyond his 6,000th flying hour, he was nervous. “But the crew I had that day was the best I’ve flown with. We were refueling F-15s from RAF Lakenheath, then we headed up to Scotland. The weather was bad, but as we broke through the cloud and saw the scenery, it was just beautiful.” 

He hit 6,000 hours at 12:48 p.m., over Newcastle, when the crew was heading home to RAF Mildenhall. 

As a boom operator, he can’t put in any flying hours without the aircraft commander and co-pilot, but nowadays, with the Pacer CRAG navigation system, real navigators don’t get to fly much any more. But for the milestone flight, he made sure there was one on board he could rely on. 

“RaileR and I have worked together for a while on the ground; I was honored when he asked me to fly with him,” said Major Knott, navigator on the flight. “I know he misses flying with a navigator, and I was more than happy to oblige. Of course, I’m never going to pass on an opportunity to pour ice-cold water down a crewmember’s back as he goes down the crew entry chute!”

“There are very few people in the Air Force who have the privilege and opportunity to accrue such a large number of flying hours,” he added. “It definitely says something about RaileR’s commitment and ability, and this flight was one of the highlights of my assignment here at Mildenhall.”

Along with praise for his crew, Sergeant Cantrell knows there are more people who have made all this possible.

“The maintainers should take a lot of the credit – without them we’d just be a static display,” he said.
Karen Abeyasekere

Secretary Gates cancels KC-X air-refueling solicitation

September 11, 2008

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has cancelled the competition for the $35 billion Air Force tanker contract.

Secretary Gates told the House Armed Services Committee Sept. 10 that he decided the contract cannot be awarded by January, and that rather than award a contract that will be contested, the better idea is to let the next administration make its decision.

“It has now become clear that the solicitation and award process cannot be accomplished by January,” he said. “Thus, I believe that rather than hand the next administration an incomplete and possibly contested process, we should cleanly defer this procurement to the next team.”

Air Force officials had awarded the contract for what’s known as the KC-X to the Northrop-Grumman/EADS/Airbus consortium, which prompted a protest from rival bidder Boeing. Inspectors in the General Accountability Office found irregularities in the awarding of the contract, and Secretary Gates re-opened the bidding process on July 9.

Secretary Gates told the representatives that the department has been trying for seven years to find the proper way to replace the current fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. During that time, the process has become most complex and emotional, Secretary Gates said, partly because of Defense Department mistakes.

“It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we cannot complete a competition that will be viewed as fair and competitive in this highly-charged environment,” the secretary said. “I believe the resulting cooling-off period will allow the next administration to view objectively the military requirements and craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X as it sees fit.”

Secretary Gates said he’s been assured that the current KC-135 fleet can be adequately maintained to satisfy Air Force missions for the near future, and sufficient funds will be recommended in the fiscal 2009 and follow-on budgets to maintain the KC-135 at high mission-capable rates.

Jim Garamone (AFPN)

USAF Makes Night-Refueling Safer

August 23, 2008

Teaming with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Night Vision Center of Excellence of Mesa, Ariz., the Air Mobility Battlelab saw a way to aid Stratotanker aircrews to see in the dark through the KC-135 Exterior Night Vision Imaging System-compatible Lighting initiative.

“The tanker’s exterior lighting is not currently compatible with night vision goggle operations which limits the receiver’s ability to use their night vision systems during air refueling operations,” said Master Sgt. Chris Sidoli, the AMB’s project manager for the initiative and a career boom operator in both the KC-135 and the KC-10 Extender. “Our solution is simple – modify tanker aircraft with night vision-friendly exterior lighting and night vision-compatible interior lighting for the boom pod. This can have an immediate impact for our tanker forces in the deployed theater.”

In working with AFRL’s Night Vision Center, a light-emitting diode, or LED-based system was designed to replace the KC-135’s wing and tail navigation lights, boom nozzle light, upper and lower strobes and pilot director lights without any internal aircraft wiring changes. Inside the boom operator compartment at the tail of the plane, night vision-friendly LED flood lights were added and some cockpit and boom pod switches were replaced to facilitate multi-mode operations.

“The idea is to make air refueling at night safer,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “Right now, during night-time air refueling operations in ‘black-out’ conditions, pilots in aircraft receiving fuel have to remove their night vision goggles prior to an air refueling to prevent required visual references from being ‘washed out’ or obscured in the night vision goggle image. Also, current external lighting on the aircraft is easily detected by ground threats using the unaided eye. Correcting these deficiencies has a direct impact on mission accomplishment and safety in flight.”

A demonstration with the modifications on a KC-135 was held in August 2007 out of Phoenix Sky International Airport, Ariz., with KC-135s from the 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard.

“In setting this up, we looked for low cost, commercial and government off-the-shelf lighting technology to make the KC-135 exterior and boom pod interior lighting selectively night vision-compatible yet undetectable to the unaided eye,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “Then the AFRL stepped in and designed and installed the lighting solutions. To save time and cost, and to decrease risk, lighting luminance assessments were done in a controlled laboratory environment prior to hardware installation on the KC-135 used for the demonstration.”

Once the aircraft was configured with applicable lighting for each phase of the demonstration, Sergeant Sidoli said lighting luminance assessments were conducted in a light-tightened hangar that was as fully darkened as conditions would allow and served as a controlled environment.

Throughout the demonstration, they completed objectives on lighting for the pilot director indicator and boom nozzle, boom pod interior, wing tip and navigation lights and upper and lower strobe lights.

“Overall, the demonstration proved the changes could work,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “This initiative showed that a low-cost night vision lighting alternative is out there and is feasible. We found that a night vision lighting system can eliminate the time necessary for receiver pilots to don or doff their night vision equipment while performing night-time air refueling operations. This is an improved capability when compared to the current operations in the field.”

Further flight testing of the equipment that was designed and developed by AFRL may be required, however Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lathrop, AMB commander, has recommended this initiative for fielding.

“The National Guard Bureau and other agencies are pursuing funding to accomplish flight and environmental testing on the night vision lighting system,” Colonel Lathrop said. “It is AMB’s recommendation this initiative be considered for fielding by Air Mobility Command as resources allow and requirements dictate.”

The Air Mobility Battlelab was established in 2001 to identify and demonstrate the utility of innovative concepts with potential to enhance Mobility Air Force capabilities. AMB will deactivate in September 2008 as part of an Air Force cost-savings initiative.


Scott Sturkol

Air Force Reduces Fuel Load to Save Money

July 8, 2008

Aerial RefuelingThis poster or framed print of an Air Force F-15 aerial refueling can be yours. Visit our patriotic art gallery.

As oil prices continue to soar, Air Mobility Command officials at scott Air Force Base (IL) are looking for ways to lower the amount of aviation fuel used by the command’s fleet of airlifters and tankers.

An Air Force study using 2006 data revealed aviation fuel accounts for 82 percent of the Air Force’s total energy consumption, with AMC accounting for 27 percent of that total. 

The command’s airlifters and tankers consumed 675 million gallons of jet fuel in 2006 at a total cost of $1.5 billion. That was when a gallon of jet fuel cost $2.27.

Now, as jet fuel prices have climbed above $4 a gallon, AMC officials are searching for additional cost-saving initiatives to add to two major ones the command has instituted in recent years.

After studying fuel conservation methods used by commercial airlines, AMC officials now put only enough fuel on its aircraft for them to complete their assigned missions, instead of a standard (or set) fuel load.

The change has saved the command more than $18 million annually and, according to one Air Force report, could result in an additional $40 million savings a year in cost avoidance.

Another AMC initiative saves $1.6 million a year in projected fuel costs by removing equipment KC-135 Stratotankers once carried on board during training missions.

Approximately 1,200 pounds of equipment, such as chains, bins, tables and seats, are no longer carried on these types of flights. 

Jonathan Stock (AFPN)