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Military

KC-10 air refueling sorties vital to combat missions

by Master Sgt. Cheryl L. Toner
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs


6/14/2005 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- KC-10 Extender crews know how important every mission is; however, success is even sweeter when major barriers are overcome to launch just one mission.

This was especially true as maintainers and operators at a forward-deployed location overcame one obstacle after another to launch a KC-10, allowing fighter aircraft needing fuel to continue to provide cover for Soldiers on the ground in Iraq.

Airmen from the 10th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron and Combined Air Operations Center, were working together June 7 to launch a sortie for Operation Iraqi Freedom. As the temperature reached 110 degrees, the crew worked in the beating sun on the flightline preparing the aircraft and discovered a hydraulic system malfunction in one of the engines.

Aviation hydraulic fluid leaked from the engine and maintainers scrambled to clear the hazardous material spill, said Maj. Derek Bartholomew, 908th EARS director of operations. Firetrucks and safety responded to the spill cleanup as operators handled the task of finding another aircraft for the mission.

Meanwhile, fighters over Iraq were providing cover for “friendlies.” Fighters in the area were relying on aerial refuelers who were beginning to see the proverbial “E” on their own gas tanks.

At a forward-deployed location, Combined Air Operations Center planners continued to direct the ongoing mission as maintainers and operators hustled to ready another refueling jet, Major Bartholomew said. The crew stayed on and “maintenance and ops worked together to quickly preflight the jet and expedite the tow” for the second aircraft, he said.

After the aircraft was towed and lined up for takeoff, the crew suffered another setback. The refueling boom’s “not stowed” light came on, indicating the KC-10’s equivalent of a gas pump handle was not properly stowed. The aircraft was then towed back where maintainers ensured it was finally ready. Soon it was on its way.

“This mission was critical,” Major Bartholomew said. “Other tankers already airborne had stayed aloft longer to refuel the fighters, thus running low on gas and waiting anxiously for the arrival of the KC-10 sortie.”

He also said the mission saved “numerous fighter and attack aircraft missions from subsequently canceling for lack of fuel.”

While the ground crew did not realize the gravity of the situation in Iraq that day, Senior Master Sgt. Bryon Weigel, noncommissioned officer in charge of the KC-10 maintenance unit, said all of his people understand just how important every mission is.

“The Soldiers fighting on the ground rely on us to recover, fix and launch aircraft safely and on time,” he said.

From the Solders on the ground who may never know who flew top cover that day, to the maintainers here who will probably never find out who they helped, and everyone in between, Major Bartholomew said he knows they all made a difference.

“The fuel saved the day and allowed friendly forces to come to the aid of a convoy in distress,” he said.

This, he said, in all likelihood saved the lives of those on the ground.



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