Taking flight with the 128th --Total force integration at work

  • Published
  • By Maj Eric Hilliard
  • Cooperative Cope Thunder PA
Local and international media were invited by the 35 AEW commander to fly on tanker refueling mission during Cooperative Cope Thunder.

After a welcome brief by Colonel Rusty Cabot, commander and exercise director for CCT 06-3, Lt. Col. Pete Hoffmann, detachment commander for the 128th Air Refueling Wing and his tanker crew from the Wisconsin Air National Guard provided media reps from Japan, Sweden and Canada with a rare opportunity to see how tankers assigned to the 128th ARW support the exercise and extend the global reach of the combat aircraft through air-to-air refueling.

During the two hour flight, the tanker, call sign Gassy 01, refueled four F-16s from Hill AFB, Utah at an altitude above 20,000 feet.

Keeping the large KC-135 aircraft on course were the aircraft commander, Capt. Andy Wahl and Maj. Shawn Gasney...both from Wisconsin.

In all, more than 14,000 pounds of fuel were delivered to the waiting aircraft by the steady hand of boom operators Tech. Sgt. Keith Rowan, and Tech. Sgt. Chris Winchell. 

Winchell, from Milwaukee has been a part of the128th for nine years and a boom operator for three years. He says that he loves his job.

"I've done this a thousand times and every time I do it, I think it's the best job in the world," said Winchell.

For most of the passengers on the flight, it was their first time witnessing air-to-air refueling...especially from the view of the boom operator. All of the passengers on the flight agreed that refueling operation was indeed a 'cool' deal.

One passenger, an exercise observer from Mexico said the experience was awesome.
"Era Fantastico," said Lt. Col. Jose Antonio Sierra Amador, F-5 pilot in the Mexican Air Force. "We do not do air-to-air refueling with our F-5s. This was my first time seeing this...it was awesome," he said.

Over the course of the two week exercise, the tankers and crew of the 128th are expecting to provide more than 1 million lbs of fuel to participating aircraft like the JASDF F-15, Canadian F-18 and the US Air Force's F-16. Unfortunately, as first time participants in CCT, the Swedish Air Force, with their Gripen aircraft, will not conduct any air-to-air refueling operations.

1st Lt. Peter Liander from the Swedish Air Force and Corporal Jon Wilson of the Canadian Forces were also on the refueling flight and were equally impressed with the tanker crews' ability to offload the necessary fuel to the awaiting fighter jets.

Wilson, a Canadian military photographer said, "I really enjoyed it. It was definitely a unique view and I wouldn't mind getting up there again."

Over the next seven days, the 128th also plans on providing viewing opportunities to other Cooperative Cope Thunder participants at various times throughout the exercise...as long as the mission allows for it.