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The US Air Force (USAF) is shifting the way it builds and maintains readiness for flight operations by way of commercial enterprise.
As Tech. Sgt. Jimmie D. Pike, Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs, in the article US Air Force completes first commercial air-to-air refueling of fighter aircraft, this change isn’t completely new, as the US Navy and Marine Corps have been leveraging this capability for almost 20 years. However, the Air Force is now hopping on board to use commercial refuelers.
“Just this past Summer, a commercial refueling company was able to refuel an Air Force E-3 and an RC-135 in coordination with Air Combat Command during an exercise,” said Lt. Col. Curtis Holtman, Pacific Air Forces air mobility operations chief. “We’re expanding that aperture in PACAF, and identified a proof-of-concept employment to refuel fighter aircraft during exercise Commando Sling 23.”
During this exercise, a KDC‐10 tanker aircraft belonging to Omega Aerial Refueling Service (OARS) flew with Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, to Singapore to provide aerial refueling enabling the pilots to further project airpower.
The capability of the commercial refueler didn’t end with topping off fuel for Air Force fighter aircraft. The KDC-10 in fact features dual usage with the capability to refuel mid‐flight and carry freight or passengers.
“The KDC-10 was also loaded with more than 40 passengers attending the exercise and four pallet positions worth of cargo to exercise the aircraft’s dual role capability for airlift as well as refueling,” said Holtman.
The aircraft can carry 247,000 pounds of fuel for refueling plus up to 100,000 pounds of freight or passenger payload.
This groundbreaking event marks the first time ever a commercial tanker refueled USAF fighters: the accomplishment of this proof-of-concept is a pivotal achievement for the Air Force as it demonstrates a key capability the Air Force can continue to leverage enabling a surge in exercises while simultaneously maintaining immediate mission readiness.
“If we can use commercial air refueling to cover the point A to point B movements for exercise participation across unit readiness training, then it frees up our warfighter tanker fleet to be ready to respond for emerging contingency requirements,” said Holtman. “This is another mechanism that we can leverage to increase our warfighter readiness.”
According to Holtman, commercial refuelers will have provided air-to-air refueling to three separate airframes during the exercise: F-15Cs, F-16s, and F-22s.
Omega is the first commercial company in the world that provides air-to-air refueling services. The company converted a former PAN-AM Boeing 707-300 into a refueling tanker in 1999. The modified aircraft flew for the first time in the same year and became the world’s first commercial air refueling tanker.
Today OARS operates a fleet of KC-707 and KDC-10 aircraft owned by Omega Air, each capable of flying over 1,200 hours per year.
Photo credit: Courtesy Photo
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