351ST EXPEDITIONARY AIR REFUELING SQUADRON -- Master Sgt. Patrick Denson, 100th Operations Group boom operator, finishes his aerial refueling duties on a KC-135 Stratotanker Sept. 24, 2012. The crew refueled eight aircraft during a nighttime training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Jason Smith)
351ST EXPEDITIONARY AIR REFUELING SQUADRON -- Captains Neil Gregory and Adam Dalson, 351st Air Refueling Squadron and 100th Air Refueling Wing respectively, fly a KC-135 Stratotanker over the sea Sept. 24, 2012. The crew refueled eight aircraft during a nighttime training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Jason Smith)
351ST EXPEDITIONARY AIR REFUELING SQUADRON -- Capt. Neil Gregory, 351st Air Refueling Squadron co-pilot, performs a preflight inspection on a KC-135 Stratotanker Sept. 24, 2012. The crew refueled eight aircraft during a nighttime training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Jason Smith)
by 1st Lt. Jason Smith
100th Air Refueling Wing public affairs
9/25/2012 - 351ST EXPEDITIONARY AIR REFUELING SQUADRON -- This particular aircraft entered military service the same year the United States introduced zip codes, Alcatraz closed, TaB Cola was introduced and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
On Sept 24-25, 2012, three KC-135 Stratotanker crewmembers, none of whom were even born when the 1963 aircraft started running missions, refueled eight other aircraft in the black of night over an undisclosed sea while operating from an unfamiliar location.
"This is what we signed up to do," said Capt. Adam Dalson, a pilot from the 100th Air Refueling Squadron, RAF Mildenhall, England. "This is the fun stuff."
Dalson, a Fairfax, Va., native, along with Capt. Neil Gregory, 351st Air Refueling Squadron co-pilot, and Master Sgt. Patrick Denson, 100th Operations Group boom operator, met with eight C-130 variants and downloaded more than 32,000 pounds of fuel on this particular training mission.
The whole mission took about five hours in the air. A typical RAF Mildenhall training mission might take about four hours, according to Dalson. Still, for a deployed mission, this particular one was relatively short.
"My longest mission was 14.1 hours," said Dalson. "This one is short and fun."
Dalson's longest mission was "one-upped" by Denson who has been a boom operator for more than 21 years. The Madison, Wis., native was once part of an 18-hour mission. His experience includes refueling just about every aircraft that can be refueled.
"I started flying the 'A-model,'" said Denson. "It didn't have any of the digital gauges you see. The upgrades, which are fleet standard now, have made the boom operator more involved."
Because the aircraft no longer requires a navigator, Denson said the former four-person crew, now counting on just three, gives the boom operator more responsibilities.
"My favorite part of the flying is the level of responsibility you have-especially for the enlisted," said Denson. "You are advising the pilot during the refueling."
Gregory, a Louisville, Ky., native is working to become a certified aircraft commander. He selected the KC-135, which originally entered the Air Force inventory in 1956.
"This is the airframe I wanted to fly," said Gregory. "I'm a big fan of its mission."
Dalson, who is preparing to transition to the C-17 Globemaster III, said he also selected the KC-135 because of its mission. There are many aspects of this older airframe he says he will miss.
"The KC-135 is all cable and pulley," said Dalson. "I haven't flown the C-17 yet, but I can imagine being 'fly by wire' it will have a different feel. I'm excited for my new airframe, but I'll miss the 135."
This capable aircraft might be old to some, but the training and quality work of the maintainers who fix it and aircrews who fly it keep the KC-135 more than relevant in modern air refueling, humanitarian relief delivery, and moving passengers and cargo.
On this particular mission, no one actually had a TaB Cola to toast another successful flight. It's hard to find TaB, but relatively easy to find a KC-135 and a crew expertly doing what they've been doing for more than 55 years.