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Refuelers Keep 'Eagles' Flying in Alaska

Refuelers Keep 'Eagles' Flying in Alaska

By Tech. Sgt. Reginal Woodruff, Northern Edge Joint Information Bureau.

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska -- (AFPN) April 29, 2002 -- A nine-ship formation of KC-135 Stratotanker refuelers took to the sky above Alaska for a second day of Northern Edge 2002 flying missions here April 23. Northern Edge is Alaska's premier joint training exercise, and takes place on land, at sea and in the air.

First Lt. Jerrad Krapp, a KC-135 Stratotanker co-pilot from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., prepares his aircraft for takeoff April 23 at Eielson AFB, Alaska, in support of Northern Edge 2002.  

Photo by Staff Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

Capt. Jeff Devore, the pilot; 1st Lt. Jerrad Krapp, the co-pilot; and Staff Sgt. Michael Turcotte, boom operator, manned the sixth aircraft in the formation, destined for refueling missions over the Gulf of Alaska. All three are with the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

"Refuelers have a two-fold mission," said Devore. "We move [refuel] receiver aircraft anywhere in world, and we are also responsible for getting people to the fight."

Devore and the other crewmembers aboard the flight are tasked with keeping aircraft up and training during Cope Thunder -- flying operations for Northern Edge 2002. And they, along with the other refueling crews, give a true illustration of the joint operations for which the exercise is known.

"Today we'll be refueling F-15s," said Devore. "But tomorrow we may have to refuel Navy aircraft. Joint air refueling with Navy F-18s has been seamless.

"Sometimes Navy controllers direct Air Force aircraft to Navy receivers. It is the same as real world. Sometimes we’re controlled by other services and sometimes by foreign governments," said Devore.

A KC-135 Stratotanker participating in Northern Edge 2002 prepares to refuel a group of F-15s from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, on April 23.


Photo by Staff Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

The Air Force is making modifications to the KC-135 so crews will be able to refuel both Navy and Air Force aircraft during a single mission, the captain said. Currently, the KC-135 requires an attachment, called a drogue, to refuel aircraft such as the Navy EA-6B. The drogue can only be attached on the ground.

While Devore and Krapp piloted the aircraft south over the snow-capped mountains and more than 100 miles over the gulf, Turcotte was doing some flying of his own in a small compartment at the rear of the aircraft. From there, he guided the Stratotanker's rudder-controlled boom to the fuel tanks of F-15 Eagles from Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, participating in the exercise.

"This is definitely one of the best jobs in the Air Force," said Turcotte, shortly after refueling an F-15 just feet away from the KC-135. "We refuel bombers and fighters so they can go the extra mile. Our mission is to make sure they can complete their mission."

Turcotte chose the challenge of being a boom operator after spending several years working in a relatively risk-free job.

"There are inherent dangers in having aircraft in close proximity," said Turcotte, "Receivers are usually about 15 to 20 feet away from the refueler, traveling more than 300 knots. So there is always the risk of a midair collision, and there is the potential of the boom being ripped. But the job is definitely rewarding."

Each of the "airborne filling stations" was visited by several F-15s during the six-hour mission. The aircrew dispensed more than 87,000 pounds of fuel, and as they prepared for the return to Eielson, Krapp agreed the more than 400 flying hours he has amassed in refuelers has been nothing less than gratifying.

"Both, real-world and training missions like this, they're all important," said Krapp. "It's great to feel like I've contributed to winning the fight."

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).