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    McConnell Reservists keep Thunderbirds flying

    McConnell Reservists keep Thunderbirds flying

    Photo By Maj. Zachary Anderson | Capt. Nicholas Eberling, a solo pilot for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Zachary Anderson 

    931st Air Refueling Wing/Public Affairs

    MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. - On the morning of May 22, six familiar red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcons from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Demonstration Squadron streaked across the skyline of New York City to promote their upcoming performance at the Jones Beach Air Show in Wantagh, N.Y. Thousands of New Yorkers were treated to the site of the fighters as the formation cruised from Long Island to Queens, over Brooklyn and along the Hudson River. However, this display of precision flying and airpower would never have happened if not for the efforts of Air Force Reservists from McConnell's 931st Air Refueling Group.

    One day prior, on May 21, two KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft departed McConnell air force base with the mission to provide cross-country air refueling support for the Thunderbirds. The demonstration squadron's F-16's require multiple refuelings in order to make a non-stop, long-distance flight. The KC-135 serves as a flying gas-station, with the capability of quickly offloading thousands of gallons of fuel in mid-flight, which allows receiving aircraft to continue flying rather than being forced to land to refuel.

    In this instance, the Thunderbirds were traveling from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, N.Y. The demonstration team performs a demanding schedule with shows around the entire United States, making air refueling an absolute must.

    "Their mobility is seriously compromised if they can't get tanker support," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Tener, a refueling boom operator assigned to the 18th Air Refueling Squadron. "If they can't air refuel, they are going to have to land all seven airplanes, which could easily add another 12 hours to their travel schedule, even if they don't have maintenance issues with landing and refueling on the ground then restarting the airplanes. The tanker maximizes their mobility and helps them meet their timelines."

    Tener, who served as one of the boom operators during the Thunderbird support mission, said refueling the demonstration team wasn't much different than air refueling he's done in the past.

    "It's different than last year when I was refueling F-16s in the desert, but it's the same airplane just with a different mission and different paint scheme," said Tener.

    The complexity of air refueling can be daunting; in this instance, the Reserve aircrews made first contact with the Thunderbirds while soaring at an altitude of 25,000 feet over the Rocky Mountains. The two aircraft then had to link up in mid-flight to pass off thousands of gallons of jet fuel while cruising at more than 500 miles per hour in dense clouds.

    Despite these challenges, Lt. Col. Brant Abraham, a pilot assigned to the 18th Air Refueling Squadron and an aircraft commander on this mission, said the refueling operation went smoothly.

    "In many ways, it's more relaxing to do a CONUS refueling flight like this rather than working in theater," said Abraham. "It's really pretty routine, like any other operational or training sortie that we fly."

    Capt. Bryce Sager, only eight months removed from KC-135 pilot training at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., served as a co-pilot on the refueling flight. Sager said a mission like this provided him with valuable learning experience.

    "I just graduated from pilot training in March and left Altus in August, so for me this is a chance to absorb knowledge," said Sager. "Lt. Col. Abraham has been flying KC-135s for more than 20 years, so being able fly this mission with him gave me an opportunity to learn from his experience."

    After a full day of flying and multiple air refuelings, the Thunderbirds were able to safely and efficiently arrive at their destination. Over the weekend, thousands will be able to watch and enjoy the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron in action, thanks to the Citizen Airmen of the 931st Air Refueling Group.



    Date Taken: 05.22.2015
    Date Posted: 05.22.2015 14:20
    Story ID: 164297

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