AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
Al Udeid Air Base has witnessed several milestones with the U.S. KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft: successfully developing KC-135 hot refueling operations, the first air-to-air refueling between the U.S. and Qatar, and – most recently – partnering with the Qatar Emiri Air Force to conduct KC-135 hot refueling at Doha Air Base, Qatar.
On Jan. 21, 2021, led by a Qatari police escort, a fuel truck and Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron made their way from Al Udeid AB to Doha AB, followed by multiple support agencies – each with a vital logistical role to ensure a successful operation.
Hot refueling is the process of refueling an aircraft on the ground with one or more engines still running. The process improves KC-135 mission reliability, minimizing aircraft time on the ground and making more fuel available to receiver aircraft in the region. Hot refueling also greatly reduces an aircraft’s exposure to threats during combat operations.
Accomplishing the hot refueling with Qatari partners and ensuring all support agencies were present made this a successful coordinated effort.
The airfield required a site survey and hot refueling certification from a cross-functional team made up of aircraft maintenance, flight safety, emergency services and fuels technicians.
Hot refueling cannot occur unless a location meets a specific combination of standards. Grounding points needed to be inspected, wing clearance measured and emergency evacuation zones had to be established.
“I’d only been on Doha Air Base’s airfield once before and I had never parked an aircraft out there,” said Tech. Sgt. Spenser Thrasher, crew chief, 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “At Al Udeid Air Base, we know exactly where the aircraft is going to park on the line every time, so figuring out where the aircraft was going to be was an adjustment.”
Transporting the fuel was another opportunity for 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Airmen to demonstrate agility beyond Al Udeid’s flight line. After setting up a Qatari police escort through the 379th AEW Host Nation Coordination Cell, members of the 379th ELRS worked with the Qatari officers to regulate their R-11 fuel truck’s speed for safe fuel load transport.
“Our responsibility is to ensure the safe transportation of 6,000 gallons of jet fuel as well as delivering clean, dry fuel to the aircraft upon arrival,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andrew Gotto, fuels superintendent for the 379th ELRS. “It was a great opportunity to experience and take part in how the 379th AEW is employing the Chief of Staff of the Air Force’s action order to accelerate change or lose.”
This remote refueling operation also created an opportunity to strengthen partnerships with Qatar.
“Many U.S. units don’t know about the concept of ‘Operationalizing Relationships’ and how that transforms host nation interactions,” said 1st Lt. Ethan Sneider, officer-in-charge of special projects, 379th AEW HNCC. “That’s where HNCC helps and even has a program that does just that. ‘Mission Friendship’ gives U.S. units the tools to forge resolute partnerships on an operational level with their Qatari counterparts.”
HNCC worked with the maintenance and operations groups to gather all the necessary supporting documents needed to request Qatari cooperation with U.S. forces. After providing feedback, they submitted the request to Qatar for approval and worked as a liaison between U.S. forces and the host nation to ensure a smooth workflow for both countries.
The cooperation continued as members of the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron fire protection services integrated with Qatar Emiri Air Force fire and rescue, providing critical KC-135 aircraft-specific guidance while standing by as their Qatari counterparts ran fire protection services during the operation.
Added to the list of accomplishments, the 379th Expeditionary Communications Squadron sent a five-person team to configure and rapidly deploy an on-site communications fly-away kit, enabling secure network services as well as establishing radio communications with the KC-135 once airborne.
This decentralized operation forced the communications team to make critically important decisions to prioritize, adapt, overcome and provide the operation commander the tools needed to retain command authority and accomplish desired learning objectives.
“This exercise proved to be an excellent opportunity to train and grow our folks on the rapid deployment and configuration of mission equipment,” said Lt. Col. Charles LeDeatte, commander, 379th ECS. “The distributed command and control capability continues to expand and showcases the flexibility of advertised services in support of command objectives.”
As desert sands blew across the Doha Air Base flight line, crew chiefs set up to catch and refuel the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft flying high above. The jet was piloted by members of the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, a unit that has been pioneering the hot refueling process at Al Udeid AB since its approval for operations in October of 2020.
“The refueling at Doha Air Base was the next step in validating our tactics, techniques, and procedures,” said Lt. Col. Isaiah Oppelaar, commander, 340th EARS. “The KC-135’s utilize Doha as our first choice for weather diversions, and now we have proven the ability to rapidly turn a tanker there during combat.”
As the jet landed and parked at Doha AB, the aircraft maintainers and fuels personnel quickly went to work to efficiently refuel the jet, utilizing their extensive hot refueling experience over the last few months. Accomplishing the mission was in a large part due to the combination of efforts by multiple career fields working hand-in-hand alongside their Qatari counterparts. Al Udeid AB continues to increase combat agility by decreasing reliance on any one airfield. 379th AEW Airmen are expanding and proving capabilities while strengthening the resolute partnership between the U.S. and Qatar.