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Extenders keep Red Flag-Alaska on target

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A Navy F-18 Hornet receives fuel from the trailing drogue of a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. forces flown under simulated air combat conditions. It is conducted on the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex with air operations flown out of Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A Navy F-18 Hornet receives fuel from the trailing drogue of a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. forces flown under simulated air combat conditions. It is conducted on the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex with air operations flown out of Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Tech. Sgt. David Seyl, 9th Air Refueling Squadron flight engineer, performs post-flight safety checks on a KC-10 Extender after a Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 refueling flight April 11. The KC-10 can transport up to 75 people and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles unrefueled.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Tech. Sgt. David Seyl, 9th Air Refueling Squadron flight engineer, performs post-flight safety checks on a KC-10 Extender after a Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 refueling flight April 11. The KC-10 can transport up to 75 people and nearly 170,000 pounds of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles unrefueled.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A KC-10 Extender from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, and its crew prepare for a morning flight during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. forces flown under simulated air combat conditions. It is conducted on the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex with air operations flown out of Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A KC-10 Extender from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, and its crew prepare for a morning flight during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. forces flown under simulated air combat conditions. It is conducted on the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex with air operations flown out of Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A French air force Mirage 2000 fighter jet receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Fighter jets typically require aerial refueling to fight and stay in the fight longer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--A French air force Mirage 2000 fighter jet receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Fighter jets typically require aerial refueling to fight and stay in the fight longer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Two French air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets fly alongside a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Fighter jets typically require aerial refueling to fight and stay in the fight longer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska--Two French air force Mirage 2000 fighter jets fly alongside a KC-10 Extender during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 April 11. Fighter jets typically require aerial refueling to fight and stay in the fight longer. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justin Weaver).

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Staying in the fight while supporting the Global War on Terror is key to U.S. and coalition forces maintaining air superiority during combat missions. 

Helping ensure these pilots stay in the fight is the responsibility of the crews onboard refueling tankers like the KC-10 Extenders participating in the Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 exercise April 5-20 here. 

"During RF-A training missions, fighter jets typically require aerial refueling to fight and stay in the fight longer," said Capt. Zach Smith, a KC-10 pilot from the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California. "It's important to train with our coalition forces and fix any issues we might face here rather than in a deployed environment." 

A typical refueling flight begins with crew chiefs performing a pre-flight check of the aircraft along with an inspection of its electrical system. 

"You really have to be conscious of what you're doing on these aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Louis Monaco, an electrical and environmental aircraft systems specialist. "The most important thing to remember is safety. I can't do it by myself," he added, "It's definitely a team effort." 

As last minute flight inspections are completed, the KC-10 pilots and their crew taxi down the mile-long runway. Once airborne, the pilots head to the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex, roughly the size of Kansas, where they will stay in a holding pattern until fighter jets need more fuel. 

"We will have dispensed more than 10 million pounds of fuel by the time the exercise ends next week," said Capt. Smith, who has more than four years flying experience. "The KC-10 is such a versatile aircraft. It not only can keep the fighters fueled, but it can also transport cargo and support personnel." 

The steady hands of boom operators like Senior Airman Tim Lenz from the 9th ARS keeps the fighters fueled. 

"We keep them in the air," Airman Lenz said. "Without gas they couldn't accomplish their mission." 

Using either an advanced aerial refueling boom, or a hose and drogue centerline refueling system, the KC-10's boom operator controls refueling operations through a digital, fly-by wire system. 

Sitting in the rear of the aircraft, Airman Lenz can see the aircraft through a wide window. During boom refueling operations, fuel is transferred to the receiving aircraft at a maximum rate of 1,100 gallons per minute. 

"We play an integral part in the Air Force mission," Airman Lenz said, "and exercises like Red Flag-Alaska really help us adapt to a wide variety of U.S. and allied aircraft performing their mission."