AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots from the 555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons finished two-week-long mid-air refueling training Oct. 27.
To complete the training, Aviano enlisted the help of two Utah Air National Guard’s 191st Air Refueling Squadron’s KC-135 Stratotanker crews. The crews teamed with the F-16 pilots during multiple exercise scenarios aimed at preparing them to accurately perform a mid-air refueling in a deployed environment.
“We try to train with a refueling tanker quarterly to stay current on our qualifications,” said Maj. Michael Mullins, 31st Operations Group chief of standardization and evaluation. “Having a tanker in the air allows pilots more repetitions on training scenarios.”
During mid-air refueling, an F-16 lines up approximately one nautical mile behind the KC-135. The F-16 pilot smoothly guides the aircraft into position behind the tanker so the boom operator can provide fuel.
When the F-16 is correctly positioned, the boom operator will extend the tube-like boom out to the trailing F-16 and aim for a location on top of the aircraft, known as the basket. When the boom has connected with the basket, the operator will transfer fuel from the KC-135 through the boom to the F-16.
Refueling can take just a few minutes.
A decorated F-16 pilot with more than 1,500 flying hours, Mullins understands the need for a quick re-fuel so a pilot can return to the fight.
“We link up with the tanker at speeds of more than 300 knots and altitudes higher than 20,000 feet,” said Mullins. “Once the boom is in the basket, I focus on the directional lights on the belly of the tanker so I know where I need to make my adjustments.”
According to Mullins, newer F-16 pilots must overcome a high learning curve and figure out how to properly handle in-flight refueling. For seasoned pilots, it’s all muscle memory.
“I want everything we do in the air to be second nature for the newer pilots, whether that’s in-flight refueling or approaching a ground position correctly to drop munitions,” said Mullins. “When the stress of combat comes, it won’t be as distracting if they have gone through the motions over and over.”
In the air, fighter pilots can be assured fuel tankers are ready to assist them to complete their mission.
“All we need to know is where we need to be, when we need to be there and how much fuel is needed,” said Capt. David Palmer, 191st ARS KC-135 pilot.
A stratotanker can take to the skies with more than 110,000 lbs. of fuel, flying non-stop from Utah to Italy. This ability makes tankers vital to deployed operations, because the aircraft can stay airborne for a multitude of F-16 refueling operations.
“In a deployed environment we could stay in the air for hours refueling aircraft almost every hour,” said Palmer.
Two weeks and more than 200 sorties later, Aviano’s F-16 pilots, with the help of the Utah ANG, are now better prepared to handle combat operations in a deployed environment.