Aerial Refuelling

The “flying gas station”, a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, takes off from Kallax air base loaded with more than 150 000 pounds of aircraft fuel. Today, the shop is open for six hours for the fighter aircraft that participate in exercise Loyal Arrow.

F-18 Hornet. Photo: Louise Levin
Photo: Louise Levin
Boom operator Al Pelletier.
Boom operator Al Pelletier. Photo: Louise Levin
Major Steve Fisher.
Major Steve Fisher. Photo: Louise Levin
Photo: Louise Levin
Boom operator Al Pelletier. Photo: Louise Levin
Major Steve Fisher. Photo: Louise Levin

The job for the crew today, two pilots and one boom operator, is to provide fuel for Finnish F-18 Hornet, and German and Italian Tornado aircraft during this mission. After about thirty minutes the first aircraft, a Finnish F-18 Hornet, arrives to be refuelled. Aerial refuelling allows fighter aircraft to spend more time on missions. 

The Boom Operator – A Key Member of the Crew

Skilfully, the boom operator reels out a 78 feet long hose with a little basket at its end. This basket will connect to a probe on the fighter aircraft. This is a kind of filler cap at the end of a long telescoping pipe. When they have connected, the fuel may be transferred. The rate of flow through the hose is about 1 000—2 000 pounds per minute, and it takes about five minutes to refuel the F-18 aircraft.

– There is no fuel spill in aerial refuelling, because the pump does not start before the connection is made, explains Al Pelletier, the boom operator.

Besides using the baskets on the wings (probe and drogue) for refuelling, it is possible to use a boom suspended from the rear of the fuselage (boom and receptacle). This boom is controlled by the boom operator. The boom is 20 feet long and will telescope to twice that much in length. The boom is easy to move, both vertically and horizontally. The boom operator must be skilful and deft so that the boom does not break.

He likes the job as a boom operator.

– The job as a boom operator on the Stratotanker works great for me, since I like to travel, says Al Pelletier.

Useful in Case of Future Cooperation

Planning Officer for this mission is Major Steve Fisher. One of his tasks is to calculate how much fuel to take onboard the Stratotanker before each mission. It has to be sufficient for the six hour flight and also for all the requests that come in from the fighter aircraft.

– The aircraft to be refuelled must be certified, and the pilot must be trained in air refuelling procedures says Major Fisher.

On this flight he is also responsible for the passengers that are carried onboard. They are participants of the exercise, being is a mixture of nationalities and professions.

Major Fisher describes their participation in exercise Loyal Arrow as that they are used where they are best needed.

– One of the good things about exercises of this type is that we get to know the people we have to work with, he says.

The Pilots Control the Flow of Fuel

The tanker aircraft has three main fuel tanks in the fuselage and a further six, smaller ones in the wings. These are connected to each other and the pilots control from what tank the fuel should be pumped. This way they optimise the balancing of the aircraft and are able to fly using as little fuel as possible.