McConnell’s 22nd ARW operates from temporary home in Middle Georgia

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
If you've noticed a few KC-135 Stratotankers sitting patiently near the Robins flight line recently, your eyes weren't deceiving you.

Five of the tankers spent about two weeks in Middle Georgia, with a crew of 70 personnel from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. 

The crew, which included maintenance and logistics squadrons from across McConnell, was participating in a special operations joint exercise with various services supporting air refueling and ground activities.

Before their arrival, preparation was key to ensuring the mission can continue during the unit's temporary stay at Robins.

The 78th Logistics Readiness Squadron's Installation Reception Office began the process far in advance of their arrival. 

A Team Effort

The 78th Air Base Wing supports visiting units with airfield management, security, vehicle operations, medical, billeting and space the unit will use. 

The 78th Communications Squadron also provides computers, telephone lines, faxes, anything that's needed.

Mission partners such as the 116th and 461st Air Control wings also support visitors with hangar space and heavy equipment.

"We've had incredible support from Robins," said Lt. Col. Monique Farness, Special Operations Air Refueling chief.

Outside the Comfort Zone

"One of the main things we continue to practice during these exercises is the ability to work in locations that aren't set up for our natural support system," Farness added. 

"While we support special operations missions worldwide, for some of our folks, this is their first time experiencing real scenarios versus a simple training mission with just one aircraft," she said. "In this exercise we're dealing with multiple aircraft at the same time. It's a more realistic example of how things work in the real world."

Catching up with the crew early on, the schedule took a bit of a turn due to weather during the first week of exercises, but planes were able to get up in the air a few times. 

"Every time we do this we learn something new and find things we can do better," she said.

The KC-135, first deployed in the 1950s, can fly on about 180,000 pounds of fuel, and can refuel a variety of aircraft, including B-52s, B-2s, F-16s and when needed, international partners such as British aircraft.

Air refueling is a very scheduled-driven mission, said Farness. 

"Tankers stay busy throughout our Air Force," she said. "We pre-coordinate when and where we need to be to make 'joining' easier. Think of it - two aircraft in the sky in a small amount of space. We have to find each other in that great big sky."  

As both aircraft get ready to meet, each coordinates and maintains an airspeed and altitude. 

One aircraft flies behind the tanker, lining up as a boom operator at the back of the plane controls the boom during in-flight air refueling. To refuel a fighter jet like an F-16 can take a few minutes; for larger planes like a B-52 it can take much longer.  

During this recent exercise, the crew was scheduled to perform night operations, which can be challenging on its own.

"Obviously things are more difficult to see at night. Basic tasks like looking at your equipment can be harder since night changes your depth perception," she said. "We do have to periodically practice at night just to stay sharp." 

The 22nd continues to be involved in various operations involving air refueling, to include humanitarian airlift and worldwide aeromedical evacuation missions. Its Airmen have recently supported Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Odyssey Dawn.