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A USAF Thunderbird F-16 Fighting Falcon nuzzles up to the fueling boom of a Travis KC-10 air tanker to be refueled Thursday while on its way to Travis Thursday to perform in this weekend's air show. (Ian Thompson/Daily Republic)


Thunderbirds get helping hand to Travis

By From page A1 | May 02, 2014

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — It was a perfect day for an air refueling in the skies over western Nevada.

Excellent visibility in a cloudless sky and no turbulence to make refueling the Travis KC-10’s customer aircraft tricky, according to boom operator Master Sgt. Christian Leon.

“It is pretty simple, but it takes a lot of practice,” Leon said of his work while moving the boom into the receiving receptacle on the F-35 Lightning II fighter from Edwards Air Force Base that was nuzzling up behind the KC-10.

It was a lot easier than some of the missions Leon flew while deployed overseas, refueling aircraft in the dead of a moonless night to ensure those aircraft were topped off and able to respond to give whatever support was needed to American service members on the ground.

The Travis KC-10 was one of two sent up Thursday morning, not only to practice refueling each other and the F-35s, but also give the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team the fuel they needed to complete their flight to Travis for this weekend’s two-day air expo, Thunder Over Solano.

The Thunderbirds will perform both days in the afternoon, sharing the day with performances by the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, almost a dozen civilian aerial acrobatic acts, flybys by both modern and vintage military aircraft, and a host of aircraft static displays. The base’s main gate opens at 9 a.m. both days.

Both of the KC-10s on the Thursday mission contained reinforced aircrews from both the active-duty and Air Force Reserve wings stationed at Travis Air Force Base, what aircraft commander Lt. Col. Jeremy Reeves called a Team Travis mission.

The refueling allowed the Thunderbirds to quickly go into practice runs over the base to check out operating conditions Thursday afternoon without having to refuel on the ground, according to 9th Aerial Refueling Squadron commander Lt. Col. Thad Middleton.

Shortly after the KC-10s refueled the F-35s, the seven Thunderbirds aircraft showed up.

Boom operator Lindy Campbell called the mission to refuel the Thunderbirds for the air show a good one because “they are elite aircraft and don’t come around that often.”

Getting the fighters refueled involved working closely with the pilots of both aircraft to get the receiving plane into position so that the long boom can be connected to a fuel receptacle and pump over however much gas the receiving aircraft needs from the 250,000 pounds of fuel the KC-10 is capable of carrying.

That includes operating a series of lights not too dissimilar to a stop light that indicate whether a receiving aircraft needs to move closer, farther away or shift left or right.

Leon said good eye-hand control is an important attribute for a boom operator so that the refueling can be carried out as quickly and safely as possible.

Visitors to the air show will be able to see the KC-10 on ground display as well as enjoy a flyby both days.

For more information about the Travis air expo Thunder Over Solano, go to www.Facebook.com/TravisOpenHouse.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.

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