Monday, February 22, 2010

Lay on Your Belly and Pass Gas

As mentioned in my previous post, the trip out in the C-17 was an amazing experience. When I last saw the C-17, it was climbing out and headed north. It had an appointment with a KC-135 aerial refueling tanker somewhere over California.

Meanwhile, my friend and I hooked up with some of his co-workers, had a briefing and then attended a training session. After a few hours, it was time to return to our point of origin.

We were driven back out to the airfield and on to a taxi way where a KC-135 was waiting for us and a few other people.
 Isn't she a beauty? A 1957 KC-135R. Not bad lookin' for a bird three
years older than me.

As the stairway units were already in use, they had to use a  k-lift unit to get us in the aircraft.

K-lift unit. Designed for heavy pallets, we were no challenge
for it. 

Not O'Hare by any means.

After a short safety briefing, we were on our way. I am glad nothing bad happened, I would not be able to remember how to use the oxygen masks or the emergency exits. Apparently, military passengers are a cut above your average Schmoe and have to do more than tug on the 02 mask to get it to work. Lucky for me things went well.

The KC-135 is primarily used to refuel other aircraft while in the air. It can also be used for moving cargo and personnel. As it's primary function is not moving passengers, the interior is rather austere.

Interior of the KC-135 looking forward.

As stated earlier, The KC-135 is an aerial refueling tanker. The process consists of the aircraft needing fuel flying in very close formation to the tanker, behind and just below. A rigid boom is lowered to the receiving aircraft and is inserted into a receptacle when the fuel transfer takes place.

KC-135 refueling a C-17 in mid-air.  Sadly, USAF photo kyped off of
the internet.

The refueling boom is controlled by a boom operator, also called a "boomer". Although the boom is attached to the KC-135, its movement is controlled by small airfoils known as elevons. In essence, the boom is actually flying, the boomer uses a stick to control the elevons.
Aerial refueling boom showing elevons. Taken from the boom operators
The boomer controls the boom from a position in the rear of the KC-135. His "pod" is in the bottom of the aircraft and consists of a couch that looks through a window in the bottom of the plane and the boom controls. While refueling, he lays on his belly and passes gas.

I was hoping that we would pick up a refueling mission on the way home, but it was not to be. The KC-135 that we were on had already refueled the C-17 that we had flown on earlier in the day, before coming out to get us. It was cool seeing the boom operate though.

The Air Force were gracious hosts all day to me and to the other folks who were not regular customers,. They also opened up the cockpit door and allowed those who wanted a look inside for a few minutes.
Cockpit view KC-135

After a short while, we were back on the ground. Another long drive and it was all over. What an amazing day.

I feel privileged to have been allowed to observe  the men and women of the USAF in action in this way. All of this activity was apparently part of some type of multi-agency exercise. Whatever it was, it was a hoot for me.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Dear Captain Schmoe,
    LOL, an oxygen mask with more than three instructions. I'd probably have a moment there.

    Can I just say: you take a great photo with a mobile phone.

    Can I just say: You Rock, Right along with the USAF!

    Ann T.

  2. The kid has her first flight in the Mercury next week. She's as giddy as you were. You guys crack me up. ITS A PLANE.

    Great pics and I love your excitement. Its contageous.

  3. "It's a plane" - Lord please forgive PeeDee, for she knows not what she says.