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    Not in Kansas Anymore: An Exchange Pilot’s Experience

    USAF Exchange Tanker Pilots Experience Australia

    Photo By Petty Officer 1st Class Jeanette Mullinax | RAAF BASE AMBERLEY, Australia – U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Hankes, Royal Australian...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Dhruv Gopinath 

    Media Center - Japan

    For many, the chance to move to Australia would be a no-brainer.

    However, when U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Hankes found out he was being considered for a position down under, he told his superiors he would need further approval.

    “I got a phone call from my commander asking if I was interested in going to Australia to learn a new airplane,” Hankes explained. “I told him I’d need to ask my wife.”

    She said yes and six months later, the Hankeses were flying half-way around the world from McConnell AFB, Kansas to Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley, Australia.

    As an exchange officer flying the KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport with the RAAF No. 33 Squadron, Hankes helps create connections between both nations’ tanker communities while sharing tactics and learning about the RAAF’s capabilities.

    “We have programs all over the Pacific,” Hankes said. “With Australia specifically we have 101 years of mateship under our belt. It only makes sense for us to build deeper relationships and be able to work seamlessly together.”

    After landing in a new country, Hankes had to learn about a new platform and how his Australian counterparts conduct business.

    “It’s a big deal to learn a new aircraft,” he said. “Airbus is quite a bit different from the KC-135 (Stratotanker) that I flew before. We’re flying with a lot of different regulations, so there’s a lot to unlearn and relearn.”
    Despite the differences between airframes, the role that both tankers play and the impact they provide is essentially the same.

    “We’re supporting fighters flying across oceans; we’re helping them stay on station longer; we’re helping airlift move more cargo from one location to another or take them over airspace they wouldn’t be able to land in.”
    The number of partners that the RAAF works alongside ensures that Hankes stays busy keeping planes in the air.

    “We’ve refueled the Brits, the French, and the Germans. So we’ve refueled not just Aussie aircraft, not even just USAF aircraft.”

    Some of Hankes’ coworkers have been on the other side of the exchange program. RAAF Squadron Leader Shane Saunders, No. 33 Squadron D-flight commander, recently returned home after three years at Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst where he piloted the KC-10 Extender.

    Learning about a new airframe gave Saunders a greater understanding of the tanker mission, something he shares with Hankes.

    “The exchange program really adds some depth of knowledge and makes interoperability easier to achieve.” Saunders said.

    For Saunders, what makes being an exchange officer rewarding is both the experience of living in a new country and the relationships built with new wingmen.

    “The unit there made us feel like family more than ever. It was such a wonderful experience,” Saunders said. “The hardest thing about the exchange was leaving the States.”



    Date Taken: 08.23.2019
    Date Posted: 03.10.2020 21:50
    Story ID: 364946

    Web Views: 130
    Downloads: 0