Aerial Ballet

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing
On June 29, twenty-five thousand feet above the Atlantic Ocean, an intrinsic aerial ballet took place. Two of the Air Force’s newest fighter jets, the “Next Gen” F-35 Lightening II, received gas from a KC-10 Extender operated by members of the 76th Air Refueling Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing. The jets were on their way back to the United States after showcasing their abilities at the International Paris Air Show.

It was a historic event for the F-35’s as it was their first aerial demonstration in front of an international audience. It was also the first time the 514th AMW has refueled the new jets overseas. For many, it was the first time they have ever seen an F-35.

During the flight, necessary training was accomplished for the crew. Pilots received necessary oceanic flight time, boom operators performed required refueling contacts, and the flight engineer received training in multiple events that are most productive crossing the ocean.

Creating an “air bridge” to get jets over the Atlantic Ocean is a complicated, critical mission which takes precise planning and coordination to complete.

These cross-ocean refueling flights, or coronets, are important training for pilots and flight engineers due to the intense planning that’s involved, said Chief Master Sgt. Scott Bishop, 76th ARS, flight engineer. F-35s need nine refuels during the flight, three to four more than most other jets. During that time, the Reserve Citizen Airmen crew is responsible for all clearances for the aircraft involved, and perform all the navigation and communication.

One of the most important things flight engineers do for the fighters is to always have a base they can divert to if there is an emergency. Nine aerial refuelings require multiple diversion bases. Precise timing is required to ensure the fighters have the correct amount of fuel at certain points in the 10 hour flight.

The fighter pilots fly – they don’t take over their own navigation until they meet up with the KC-135 tanker that will refuel them to their home station.

Once the aircraft reach the east coast, another refueling crew takes over to bring the fighters back to their home base.

“The precision of the training is impressive, meeting up within seconds. It’s critical to take off on time and show up on time and adjust speed. How good we are as air crew is remarkable and we don’t even think about it,” Bishop said.

Staff Sgt. Andy Robinson, a 76th ARS flight engineer completing his initial training, said “air refueling is the key to air power. It’s said, flexibility is the key to airpower but air refueling gives power.”

The requirements in the Air Force Reserve are the same for active-duty aircrew. Traditional Reservists have civilian jobs and aircrew need three to seven days a month to maintain currency. All traditional reservists juggle military requirements, civilian job and family commitments. With aircrew there is more of a demand.

“It’s all in a day’s work, to show up on the other side of the ocean – ‘no big deal’. Other offices turn in a piece of paper, we show up on the other side of the ocean. If I’m having a bad day, I get on a flight and look out the window.” Bishop said.

What can look simple is a precise, coordinated, team effort that’s all in a day’s work for these Reserve Citizen Airmen.