A "thirsty" B-1B bomber took a drink yesterday from a Hawaii Air National Guard tanker during refueling near Hawaii.

National Guard
operates pumps in sky
to keep bombers aloft

Midair refueling is a capability
that no other country has, says
a Pacific Air Forces official

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Cruising at 21,500 feet about 200 miles northeast of Oahu, two Hawaii Air National Guard Stratotankers scan the skies for two B-1B Lancer bombers.

The two bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota last night were on the last leg of a 7,000-mile training mission that included dropping inert bombs at the Yukon bombing range south of Fairbanks, Alaska, before returning home. In the orange glow of a Hawaiian sunset, they were anxiously seeking the KC-135 Stratotankers of the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, the Air Force's only flying gas station in the Pacific.

The KC-135s, which are the military's version of a Boeing 707 jetliner, can transfer 100,000 pounds of JP-8 jet fuel in 15 to 20 minutes, said Maj. Eli Eliason, a B-1B bomber pilot now on staff at Pacific Air Forces headquarters. This translates into refueling six jet fighters or one B-1 bomber in midair while traveling more than 400 mph.

The purpose of last night's two-hour refueling mission was to demonstrate to a dozen island journalists what the Air Force describes as "global power" where "we can put bombers anywhere in the world within 24 hours," Eliason said.

A Hawaii Air National Guard Stratotanker lowered a boom yesterday to refill a B-1B bomber. Two bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota were on the last leg of a 7,000-mile training mission.

It's a capability that no other country has, added Eliason, who has flown numerous midair refuelings and 25 bombing missions into Afghanistan from Diego Garcia, some lasting as long as 20 hours.

Lt. Col. Steve Sua-Filo, a KC-135 tanker pilot, likens the long bombing missions to a cross country trip. "If you drive from Los Angeles to New York," said the Sua-Filo, a 17-year Air Guard veteran, "somewhere along the way you have to stop for gas ... We provide the gas stations, so the Air Force can project that power."

With nearly half of the Air Force's 545 refuelers belonging to reserve units like the 203rd, Hawaii's jet tankers are in constant demand. These flying gas stations, capable of carrying 33,000 gallons of JP-8 jet fuel, form "air bridges" around the globe so jet fighters, bombers and cargo planes do not have to land to be refueled.

During the war in the Balkans in 1999, Hawaii Air National Guard jet tankers were placed in the active-duty rotation refueling jets from a base in France. Other missions have been to Russia, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and numerous stops in the Pacific.

The B-1B's mission yesterday was not related to Monday's announcement by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that 24 long-range bombers be placed on alert to give the Bush administration military options if diplomacy fails to halt North Korea's efforts to produce nuclear weapons, said Pacific Air Forces spokesman 1st. Lt. David Faggard.

Rumsfeld was responding to a request from Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific forces commander, who wants 2,000 more troops in South Korea to boost the ranks of the 2,900 already there as well as move two dozen long range bombers, B-52s and B-1B Lancers to Guam to ensure peace on the Korean peninsula.

B-1B Lancer bomber

Length: 146 feet

Wingspan: 137 feet extended forward, 79 feet swept aft

Speed: 900-plus mph (Mach 1.2 at sea level)

Range: Intercontinental, unrefueled

Ceiling: More than 30,000 feet

Crew: Four

Date Deployed: June 1985

Cost: $283.1 million in 1998 dollars

Inventory: Active force, 72; Air National Guard, 18; Air Force Reserve, 0

Faggard said last night's refueling mission "was scheduled well in advance and are not related to any political activity in the theater."

Faggard said "a typical mission profile would call for bomber aircraft to take off from a mainland air base, refuel in mid-air off the West Coast of the United States, drop inert or live munitions at a bombing range and then either return to the home base or fly additional missions in the Pacific area."

Sometimes flying in a wide circle, the tankers wait for the bombers to pull under them to take on fuel which can be pumped to the jets via a tail boom at 1,000 gallons a minute.

Thirty minutes after take off, Senior Master Sgt. Warren Faurot, the boom operator, lay on his belly at the back of the KC-135, peering down as the bomber came up to be gassed. The Lancer pilot was guided by flight director indicators -- a series of flashing white, yellow, green and red lights on the bottom of the tanker.

Faurot's right hand controlled the 20-foot boom, moving it up and down and from side to side. His left hand directed the fuel tube in the boom that can extend another 20 feet.

Once Faurot hooked the boom to the jet, the co-pilot sitting in the front of the tanker controlled the flow of fuel. Within 25 minutes 110,000 pounds of jet fuel have been transferred. However, last night it took three attempts to top off the bomber because of turbulence. "It was kind of bumpy," acknowledged Faurot, who in civilian life is a firefighter.

KC-135 Stratotanker

Wingspan: 130 feet

Length: 136 feet

Gross weight: 322,500 pounds

Range: 6,300 miles

Cruising speed: 530 mph at 30,000 feet

Primary Function: Aerial refueling and airlift

Crew: Four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, boom operator

Cost: $39.6 million in 1968 dollars

Date Deployed: August 1956

Inventory: Active duty, 253; Air National Guard, 222; Air Force Reserve, 70

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