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Reviving a 40 year old technique: AUAB tests first ground A2A refuel in decades

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Derek Seifert
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

When thinking of refueling an aircraft, many imagine a KC-135 Stratotanker soaring through the clouds, and a fighter jet attached to a boom receiving thousands of gallons of fuel mid-flight. But what happens if a pilot has to make an emergency landing in an austere location?

A refueling technique that has been in the KC-135 Stratotanker’s technical orders for decades is being revived by the Airmen of the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The squadron performed a ground aircraft to aircraft refuel with a KC-135 from the 379th EAMXS and an F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Generation Squadron, Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 27, 2022 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

According to Tech. Sgt. Joseph Perez, 379th EAMXS tanker special projects noncommissioned officer in charge, the 379th EAMXS Airmen completed the first ground A2A refueling in almost 40 years.

“Normally when doing a refueling on the ground it’s from a truck or hot pit, or up in the sky using a KC-135 or KC-10, but today we took two aircraft on the ground, connected them and transferred fuel from one to the other--making sure that’s a possibility for the future,” said Perez. “It was a cool thing to get to do for the first time in a long time, everyone worked together and made it happen.”

The ground aircraft to aircraft refueling method fell out of use for decades but, Maj. Holly Gramkow’s 379th EAMXS predecessor started the proof of concept to revive the technique and passed the task to her team.

“The previous Expeditionary Maintenance Group leadership team had the idea to revive it for possible use in the ACE concept,” said Gramkow, the EAMXS commander. “After working through some other options they built this hose, which is 150 feet long and contains two fuel nozzles and a pressure regulating valve.”

The 379th EAMXS was able to bring the previous team’s idea into fruition providing an opportunity to test, not only the hose but also the team.

“As our missions and schemes of maneuver evolve as an Air Force, it’s important to look for ways to make ourselves more agile,” Gramkow said. “Refueling capabilities that evolve with us are necessary to sustain Agile Combat Employment. Aircraft to aircraft offers another option to the Combined Forces Air Component Commander for recovering diverted or stranded aircraft very quickly and getting them back in the fight.”

The ACE framework provides the Air Force the ability to develop, maintain, and share timely, accurate, and relevant mission information across dispersed forces despite adversary attempts to deny or degrade it. It also prepares leaders to make and disseminate risk-informed decisions with limited information.

According to Gramkow, a new checklist is being developed for the KC-135 aircrew to run the engine for A2A ground refueling, and training could then be implemented to ensure aircrew members are able to correctly connect the new hose directly from one aircraft to another in locations where sufficient refuel capabilities are not available.

“This technique could be used to quickly recover a stranded fighter from a location that does not otherwise have U.S. spec fuel capabilities,” said Gramkow. “While other Air Mobility Command platforms can perform F.A.R.P. (forward area refueling point), the A2A technique does not require the same amount of extra equipment, just the aircraft and the hose.”

After completing the proof of concept event, the 379th EAMXS loaned one of the hoses to the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing, Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, for testing the concept with the KC-10. The 379th EAMXS is looking at the next steps to make the operation more efficient by developing a hose that’s more lightweight and mobile. The team looks forward to sharing the information and successes to more units across the Air Force to help revive the ground aircraft to aircraft refueling technique and provide future warfighters another option to get aircraft back into the fight.