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Upgraded KC-135 Stratotankers integral to joint force

by Staff Sgt. Shad Eidson
Air Force Print News

9/21/2006 - SAN ANTONIO (AFPN) -- The Air Force's KC-135 Stratotanker fleet celebrates 50 years this month of enhancing fighter, bomber and cargo aircraft missions.

The multi-role tanker's primary mission is to refuel Air Force, sister service and coalition aircraft, but it also fills other jobs, including airlifting cargo, transporting passengers, medically evacuating patients and flying reconnaissance all around the world.

"You can truly experience all of the missions of the Air Force from the KC-135," said Lt. Col. Bryan Crutchfield, 350th Air Refueling Squadron commander at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. "We fly and fight to enable air mobility around the world."

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell AFB is one of only three KC-135 Stratotanker wings in the Air Force. Along with the Reserve's 931st Air Refueling Group there, the fleet of 40 KC-135s flew 6,200 sorties, 2,800 combat missions and off-loaded more than 1 billion pounds of fuel in support of operations in 2005.

Tech. Sgt. Matt Calisi, an in-flight refueling specialist when not serving as the NCO in charge of weapons and tactics with the 22nd Operations Support Squadron, has yet to fly a medical evacuation mission, but looks forward to going on one.

"You're in the chain of saving someone who's been injured and getting them the medical care they need," Sergeant Calisi said. "We all have real positive attitudes about it."

The aging tanker has received several upgrades over the years to the point it is almost a completely different aircraft than when it first flew in the '50s, said the colonel who has flown the Stratotanker for nearly 11 years and accumulated more than 3,000 flying hours.

The 22nd ARW is the only wing with the KC-135R/T model, which can receive in-flight fuel as well as dispense it.

"It saves time and work hours, and it gets other aircraft back so maintainers can start to work on them," the colonel said. "It's more efficient."

The capability allows one tanker to stay on station longer to respond to more support requests by taking on other tankers' remaining fuel and letting them return to base. This also reduces fuel spent keeping additional aircraft flying. Fuel consumption is important in combat zones where nine of McConnell's KC-135 are currently deployed to support the war on terrorism.

"It's a huge fuel conservation effort for the Air Force," said the colonel from Wilmington, N.C.

The KC-135 received upgrades to the engines, avionics and the cockpit to increase takeoff load, fuel efficiency and reduce operation costs. Some KC-135s models received fuel pod dispensers on the wing tips that allow a tanker to refuel two aircraft at one time as long as they have a refuel probe.

McConnell's KC-135s are 1957 and 1963 aircraft and yet they are completely dependable with a great mission capable rate, thanks to the wing's maintainers, the colonel said.

"The KC-135 is an amazing aircraft and continually a workhorse in the theater," Colonel Crutchfield said. "I don't think anybody thought it would fly as long as it has. But with all the upgrades it has received. It is a much different airplane than it was in the '60s and '70s."

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