FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Washington -- Team Fairchild’s KC-135 Stratotankers provided essential air refueling support during field training exercise RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 20-3, August 3-12.
RF-A 20-3 is a Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise for U.S. and international forces flown under simulated air combat conditions meant to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment.
“RED FLAG [Alaska] is an important exercise because it allows our tanker crews and the fighters in Alaska to practice tactics and off-load procedures before going down range,” said 1st Lt. Ben Drake, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and RF-A flight planner. “It also helps us keep our pilots and booms current in their training requirements.”
Fairchild provided air refueling support to several aircraft, including F-22 Raptors from the 354th Fighter Wing and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 18th Aggressor Squadron in Alaska, performing realistic combat training.
“RF-A, for me a as a boom operator, is probably the biggest exercise we can experience,” Senior Airman Demian Solis, 97th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator. “As far as air refueling, the pace during RF-A is different than normal operations. With similar deployed environment communications between us and fighter receivers, RF-A helps us keep proficient in mission execution when we are deployed down range.”
During normal RF-A exercises, participating bases send units to stay and operate out of host bases Eielson Air Force base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. Due to Coronavirus Disease 2019, the exercise included operations originating from other bases around the Air Force, with Fairchild tankers supporting “there-and-back” air refueling operations.
“Because of COVID-19, we are required to operate out of our home station and fly to Alaska and back all in one day,” said Solis said. "This is a way bigger advantage than sending crews to stay in Alaska because we are able to have more booms and pilots participate to sharpen their skills.”
Despite the challenges of supporting RF-A 20-3 from a distance, Fairchild Airmen were able to successfully execute all air refueling missions, sending multiple KC-135s daily and off-loading over one million pounds of fuel to receivers while keeping all aircrew healthy and safe.
“The main goal with operating out of home station was to isolate our aircrews, and ensure the mitigation of any potential spread or contraction of the virus to keep our force healthy,” Drake said.
Team Fairchild’s participation in RF-A 20-3 and essential air refueling support enables Airmen to continue improving mission readiness and capabilities to compete, deter and win.