Getting into the plane was just the beginning. There were still tons of checklists for the crew to go over. I followed our boom operator around for a bit and got familiar with the plane. This is the inside of a KC-135 before it's powered up. Quiet and dark.
Finally, it was time to taxi to the runway and take off! I was super excited. The boom operator gave me a headset so I could listen in on the chatter. It's amazing how much chatter goes on between various aircraft and the tower, etc. The pilots did a remarkable job listening out for their call sign and paying attention to what was pertinent to our mission.
Time for takeoff! No kidding, I was seriously excited at this point. It's not like I've never flown before. But sitting in the jump seat directly behind the pilots and listening to all the chatter made it feel like I was really part of the crew. Kinda fun!
This is the moment when we rose above cloudy, overcast England and into a bit of sunshine! I need a job where I can leave behind cruddy weather and seek out sunnier skies! We had gorgeous weather all the way to Germany and back. You could definitely tell when we were back in England, because it became gray all over again!Cruising at 26000 feet! Okay, I realize I snapped a picture of the wrong indicator. This dillyo, if I understand correctly, tells us what altitude we're aiming for. There was an actual dial-type thingie that indicated what altitude we were at, but the picture I got of that was blurry. All that to say: we were flying high! And MAN, the traffic! At one point the aircraft commander counted ten planes in the sky (either the planes themselves or the contrails they left behind)...and that's just what we could see from the front!
Flying over Germany! You're looking at the boom, which is how the fuel is passed between the KC-135 and its receivers. To the left of the picture, you can see the Alps! We flew a giant circle around Munich, seeing the Alps, a runway, and two energy plant towers over and over again. The boom joked that it was like National Lampoon's European vacation when they get stuck in the roundabout in London. "Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!"
First contact! This is the first plane we refueled, an F16 from Aviano AFB. Having seen pictures like this a hundred times before, I still wasn't prepared for just how close we'd be to the receiver. I could see his mask move when he talked. If we weren't going hundreds of miles and hour, I could practically jump from the boom pod to the receiver! It was amazing.
This was the boom operator for the flight, who happened to be the provider of Corn Nuts, as well. Yeah, I said Corn Nuts! Anyway, as the boom operator, you have to go in this little space in the back of the plane and lay down on your stomach. There is a joystick-like controller that controls the boom and connects it to the receiver. If I remember correctly, we offloaded about 5-6,000 pounds of fuel each to these two F16s. (Like how I say "we" as if I had anything to do with it?) And it literally only took about five minutes per plane. It's nuts.
This is the second F16 that we refueled approaching the boom. Once the boom and receiver connect, we all just cruise along in a big orbit while the gas is passed!
The next two planes we refueled were A10s from Spangdahlem. I didn't know what an A10 was before this flight, so it was cool to see them. This is the first one approaching.
This is right before the boom establish contact with the A10.
After the A10s were done, the F16s came back around. Again, just crazy how close we are! I used the puny 3x optical zoom on my little compact camera to get this close. This pilot was showing us the buzzard claw. He told us the buzzard is their squadron's mascot.
The pilots were super cool and flew around when they were done for a great photo op. I don't know who they were, but thanks, guys!
This is me in the boom pod, seriously contemplating a career change.
And these are the pilots, doing their thing in preparation for landing!
One last look at the jet before I head back to the office. What an incredible day!
Here's the thing: I'm a bit of a Mildenhall nerd already. I just stinking love this base. It's by far been my favorite assignment so far, and I hate that we're in our last year here. Since starting my job, I've really gained a better understanding of our wing's mission as the USAF's only refueling base in Europe.
But getting to see it in action? Unbelievable. I really can't do it justice. And maybe that's just because I'm the kind of person who gets easily excited about this stuff. But honestly, it is cool. It's cool to be a part of a base that refuels all of the Air Force in Europe. It's cool to get to work with the guys who do that mission day in and day out. I feel super lucky to have had this opportunity today. I only wish I could make it a regular part of my job!
Hopefully I'll get some video uploaded in the next day or two. For now, it's late. I'm out!