Photos: Riding Along KC-10 Refueling Flight as Air Force Week Takes Off
Midair refueling allows aircraft of the armed forces to remain airborne for extended periods of time, creating the ability for fighters and bombers to perform sortie after sortie, striking targets and offering air support to troops on the ground right when it’s needed. The skills of the refueling crew are paramount…the faster and safer they can serve the thirsty aircraft, the sooner they can get back to opening cans of whoop-ass.
The event started off with something unique and special to many enthusiasts; seeing a DC-10-style aircraft sitting at JFK’s American Airlines Terminal 8, which has not been seen in a couple of decades. The KC-10 tanker pulled up to Gate, and the first thing the crew did upon deplaning was take photos of their grey jet in its unique “airline” setting. The Extender aircraft does have the same body as its DC-10 sister, but the similarities fade quickly. The main deck no longer transports 380 passengers around the globe, but is an empty cargo deck that is able to carry military freight, loaded through side-cargo doors. This can include pallets of seats, giving the aircraft a seating capacity of 75, allowing the media to tag along.
It is down below in what would otherwise be the baggage compartment where the fuel is kept. Six tanks underneath the floor can carry up to 356,000 pounds of fuel. This fuel can be transferred out of the rear “boom” at a rate of 1,100 gallons per minute underneath the tail of the aircraft by a skilled and focused boom operator. Any foul-up due to turbulence, poor weather, an inexperienced pilot or language barrier with a foreign aircraft could spell disaster for both ends of the gas pump.
On this day we quenched the thirst of four F-15C Eagles based out of Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts during a training mission. Typically, the airplanes will form up on the left side of the tanker, then dip below one by one to fuel. After receiving a belly full, they’d scoot over to the right side of the tanker to wait for his mates. Rinse and repeat, the crew explained that they have had up to ten aircraft waiting off their port side at a given time during combat missions.
The KC-10 crew out from New Jersey’s McGuire Air Force Base was hand-picked as being all New Yorkers. Master Sergeant Alan Crosby tells stories of how he was flying DC-10s for a cargo airline at the time of September 11, 2001, and was called back to military duty, which he still does proudly, while also displaying a high level of enthusiasm for flying. The reality of the war on terror hit him when he was flying live refueling operations…over his hometown in Queens, New York. A pair of F-15s patrolling the skies over New York City were prepping to refuel and informed the KC-10 crew that they had disarmed their weapons. “I’m looking down at my home and realized that this was a live combat mission,” he told NYCAviation.
For all the photos we have all seen of fighter jets being refueled, nothing prepares you for the absolute beauty and awe of witnessing it in person. Only then do you see the challenges faced, and subsequently the talent of the US Air Force in executing their mission. We are in good hands.
The goal of Air Force Week is to show the public what the Air Force does, where their money goes and to let everyone know that they are protected by highly-trained men and women. Hopefully along the way, such sights can inspire young people as well to take part in the world of aviation or service to our country.
(photos by NYCAviation photographer Manny Gonzalez)
Special thanks to the United States Air Force for the opportunity and American Airlines for so wonderfully accommodating our Armed Forces. You can read more about Air Force Week at www.airforceweek.af.mil, and also follow their Facebook or Twitter accounts. We also urge you to learn about American Airlines’ Fuel Smart program, which uses fuel savings for the transportation of veterans and their families on their way to treatment and rehabilitation.