You’re a 21st Airlift Squadron C-17 coming home from an overseas tactical mission, bringing back essential supplies and wounded victims from Afghanistan. Your callsign is COVERT 33. It’s pitch black outside, and you are running low on fuel, AND thousands of miles from the nearest land. There is only one option: Aerial Refueling. Off in the distance ahead of you, you see an angel in the darkness…the beautiful red and green formation lights of XTNDER 14, a 6th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 from Travis AFB. A flying gas station just when you need fuel and your only link between flying or crashing into the dark ocean.
While the story is fictional, the callsigns are real and a few weeks ago, I was on board the KC-10 while they practiced refueling a 21st AS C-17 along the California coast. The KC-10 Extender is a vital player in helping accomplish the 60th AMW’s essential mission of providing rapid, reliable airlift of American fighting forces anywhere on earth in support of national objectives and to extend the reach of American and allied air power through mid-air refueling.
As we departed our previous aerial refueling track, we entered the 6 North/South track that runs up and down the coast of California. Arguably one of the most scenic tracks to conduct A/R on. After we completed the first part of our mission, XTNDER 14 was just a few minutes away from rendezvousing with COVERT 33, our receiver for the next couple of hours. Thanks to the precise mission planning and coordination between all of the aircraft, we hit our mark on time and the -17 was right there.
The 21st Airlift Squadron transitioned to the C-17 Globemaster III airframe back in 2006 and has since flown in operations across the globe, including Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The “Bee Liners” are the newest airframe at Travis AFB, and offer another versatile weapon to the arsenal already present at the 60th AMW: the C-5 Galaxy of the 22nd AS, and the KC-10 of the 6th & 9th ARS.
At the tip of this weapon, is MSgt Rob Tabor, Chief Boom of the 60th AMW’s Formal Training Unit. “Boomer,” as he is affectionately known as, operates the KC-10’s refueling boom and is the vial link ensuring the receiver aircraft gets fuel and keeps both aircraft operating within the razor thing margins of safety.
During our couple of hours with COVERT 33, both Boomer’s and various pilots from the 21st AS C-17 made numerous contacts to hone the fine skills needed to conduct the ballet that is aerial refueling, transferring a total of 100,000 lbs of fuel over 600 miles on refueling track 6 North/South.
After COVERT 33 disconnected and departed off on a low level mission, we took advantage of the beautiful scenery of the Bay Area. Our Air Crew coordinated with NorCal ATC for us to conduct what’s know in the area as a “Bay Tour.” As we headed back north, our crews made a smooth right turn, headed into the Bay and did a couple of laps over San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Marin headlands before heading back to Travis.
The city by the bay is indeed one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and thanks to the Gucci Boys and the 60th AMW/PA, I got to see if from a whole new perspective…
A special thanks to Capt Gill Torres and his Air Crew, as well as the amazing Public Affairs staff at 60th AMW: Maj Vanessa Hillman, 2dLt Holly Hess, and TSgt Donald Osborn. Without their help, none of these shots would have been possible.