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F-35s gas up on fly

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Staci Miller
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
F-35 Lightning II fighter pilots from the 61st Fighter Squadron connected with Airmen from the Arizona Air National Guard's 161st Air Refueling Wing June 5 to practice air-to-air refueling.

The 161st ARW is right down the road in Phoenix and provides a valuable service to Luke Air Force Base and its pilots.

"Luke is our active-duty sister unit," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Madorski, 161st ARW boom operator. "We've worked with them and the F-16 for years and look forward to working with them and the F-35 in the future."

With AAR, pilots can extend the combat radius of their aircraft, and more complex missions can be performed. Essentially, being able to refuel in the air is crucial.

"Air refueling is how we fly extended sorties or go longer distances in combat," said Maj. John Wilson, 61st FS assistant director of operations. "We routinely fly sorties lasting between four to eight hours and provide sensor coverage over an area or protection in support of ground forces. AAR enables a persistent presence in an area or the ability to strike further behind enemy lines."

While fighter pilots get lots of practice in simulators, it does not completely replicate the real thing.

"You can't duplicate the real-world factors that can complicate AAR such as the sun in your eyes, busy radios, dim director lights, turbulence or weather or manual tanker operation," Wilson said. "As with many types of training, the simulator can get you 80 percent of the way, but only flying can teach the last 20 percent."

The boom operator is in the rear of the KC-135 Stratotanker, communicating the
position of the plane receiving the fuel and insuring a smooth connection is made. The June 5 training mission was the first time many of the 161st ARW boom operators have worked with the Luke F-35 Lightning IIs.

"It's the first time we're actually getting to see the F-35s," Madorski said. "It brought me back to refueling my first F-22 Raptor. You hear the pilots telling you where they are coming from so you're just looking, and looking. All of a sudden, there they are and you have four beautiful jets come up and take their spots. It was a little Arizona on Arizona."

The relationship between the sister units is strong and continues to strengthen.

"We're always here, we have all the tankers we need and we're always willing to provide support."
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