By Mr. Scott King , 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 04, 2018
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- It’s a bright sky above the cloud deck; the outside temperature is minus 10 degrees, altitude is 22,000 feet with cruising speed of the vintage, KC-135 Stratotanker a steady 450 mph. The closing speed of the chasing C-17 Globemaster III is a steady 455 mph, and the countdown to contact begins: 50, 40, 30, 20, 10…contact!
This ‘connection’ is played out over and over, both night and day, above the Inland Northwest as boom operators aboard KC-135s from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, successfully extend their refueling booms to receiving aircraft. The fuel flows down to the thirsty receivers a mere 12 feet away.
This amazing feat would not happen without the support of Fairchild’s four groups. The 92nd Air Refueling Wing’s Operations, Maintenance, Mission and Medical Groups all contribute to the success of this mission, not only in the skies above the Inland Northwest, but for operations around the globe.
"The mission of Fairchild's boom operators is critical to the success of executing air refueling around the globe," said Col. Ryan Samuelson, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander. "Without the KC-135 and its capabilities and the unwavering support our groups provide to support those capabilities, the Air Force as a whole would not be able to execute today's Rapid Global Mobility."
The Stratotankers’ capabilities are jaw-dropping, especially when considering they were built in the 1950s. Manufactured by Boeing, the KC-135’s four CFM International 56 turbofan engines have a thrust of 21,634 pounds and have a maximum speed of 530 mph at 30,000 feet. Their maximum transfer fuel load is 200,000 pounds which is equivalent to 30,584 gallons; that’s enough fuel to fill a passenger car for 42 years. When the planes rolled out in 1956, they cost $39.6 million each; now they would be much more expensive.
Each of Fairchild’s groups have unique mission sets that are key to the mission.
The 92nd OG is responsible for carrying out the refueling mission and are considered to be the backbone of the 92nd ARW. This group is comprised of the 92nd, 93rd and 384th Air Refueling Squadrons, as well as the 92nd Operations Support Squadron. They house aircrews and support functions, to include boom operators and pilots, who fly the wing's KC-135 aircraft. The 92nd OG executes Rapid Global Mobility for America through air refueling, airlift, operational support and aeromedical evacuation.
“Every job on this base is a link in a continuing chain,” said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Ireland, 92nd OG superintendent. “Everybody on Fairchild is part of that chain that enables the boom operator to ‘make contact’ with the boom nozzle to the receiver aircraft receptacle, whether that’s a fighter, bomber or cargo aircraft. There can be no weak links in this chain. If an Airman at the dining facility doesn’t make sure the food is at the right temperature, or a Defender doesn't keep keen watch over the installation, or the Airfield Management Airman doesn't constantly monitor the status of the airfield, or the boom [operator] doesn't continue to fine-tune their craft to keep a steady hand on the controls, the entire mission is at risk. Everyone on this base moves the mission and makes airpower happen. Everyone serves a customer and we all need to work to expand our individual skill-sets every single day.”
The 92nd MXG is responsible for supporting the dynamic operations of the 92nd and 141st Air Refueling Wings and tenant units. The group provides on- and off-equipment maintenance for the Stratotankers and special support for the 336th Training Group's UH-1N helicopters. Squadrons assigned to the 92nd MXG are the 92nd Maintenance, Maintenance Operations and Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons.
“Maintenance is always the leading edge of meeting the mission,” said Col. Alan Hart, 92nd MXG commander. “Our maintainers prepare the aircraft well before anyone else shows and are always the ones to catch, turn and repair each jet after its mission. Without maintainers, this 60-year-old key to U.S. airpower would have stopped flying long ago.”
Responsible for most of Fairchild’s support missions is the 92nd MSG. This group is committed to excellence in combat and service support. They pride themselves as world-class professionals building the best support group. The 92nd MSG consists of the 92nd Civil Engineer, Communications, Force Support, Security Forces, Contracting and Logistics Readiness Squadrons.
“The 92nd MSG provides the power projection platform for the aerial refueling mission,” said Col. Yvonne Spencer, 92nd MSG commander. “From fueling of the tankers to maintaining the runway, securing the airfield to ‘refueling’ Airmen and executing contracts for facilities, equipment and parts, we are the foundation of aerial refueling mission execution. We also ensure Fairchild's facilities and infrastructure are sustained in order to meet mission requirements, now and in the future.”
Responsible for the health and well-being of Fairchild’s military and civilian members is the 92nd MDG. The group consists of the 92nd Medical Operations, Aerospace Medicine and Medical Support Squadrons. This group offers outpatient services including family practice, dental, pediatrics, internal medicine, aerospace medicine, physical therapy, optometry and women's health care.
“Our key is providing ‘Medically Ready Forces...and Medically Ready Airmen,’” said Col. Michaelle Guerrero, 92nd MDG commander. “Ensuring Team Fairchild Airmen are ‘medically ready’ spans the full spectrum of healthcare activities from deployment health screening and annual health exams, to taking care of our military families while they are deployed or temporary duty. Providing for our Airmen's healthcare needs is a basic need like food, water and shelter. We enable them to be the best they can be mentally and physically, while also taking care of their families back at home station. At times, this also includes providing our flying squadron personnel [to include boom operators] with Squadron Medical Element Airmen. This team is embedded within air refueling squadrons and provides daily healthcare support to the unit while deployed.”
All this support leads up to one thing – the contact boom operators achieve. Tactical locations are often long distances from supporting airfields, which means aircraft may require refueling midflight. While operating a specialized boom from the back of a KC-135, boom operators pump thousands of gallons of jet fuel into receiving aircraft. These highly trained experts must have a steady hand and calm nerves in order to complete this remarkable and crucial task in order for the Air Force to continue to successfully complete all of our missions.
“As boom operators, we help bring Rapid Global Mobility to the United States Air Force. If our ability of in-flight refueling is removed, then the way the Air Force operates today would be vastly different,” said Airman 1st Class Brandon Hopkins, 93rd ARS boom operator. “Global Mobility doesn’t start or end with boom operators; without an expert maintenance group taking care of the aging fleet the mission would not succeed. The mission support group provides many services, keeping stress off aircrew so we can focus on the mission. This is the same for the medical group; they help Airmen stay at their best. It’s a team effort.”
All four groups not only contribute to the mission of the boom operator, but also support a base population of nearly 12,000 and have an economic impact to the surrounding community of $432 million – huge impacts all around.
So as that C-17 breaks away from Fairchild’s KC-135 at 22,000 feet after ‘filling up,’ the crews know thousands of people from across the base have contributed to the success of their mission. Now they are the end of the link in the chain after…Contact!