March 21, 2016

US, Turkish KC-135 units fly together for first time

by SrA. David Bernal Del Agua
Nellis AFB, Nev.

Capt. Alex Durstein, left, a 344th Air Refueling Squadron pilot; Turkish air force Maj. Orcun Kus, the 101st ARS commander; and U.S. 1st Lt. Nate Foltz, a 344th ARS pilot, pose for a photo, March 8, 2016, over Nevada. The U.S. and Turkish air force crews flew the first-ever KC-135 Stratotanker formation flights together during Red Flag 16-2. Red Flag involves a variety of fighter, bomber, reconnaissance and air lift support aircraft that require mid-air tanker support during the exercise.

To better understand how each nation completes the vital air refueling mission, the U.S. Air Force and Turkish air force flew KC-135 Stratotankers together in formation for the first time March 8 over the Nevada Test and Training Range, northeast of Nellis Air Force Base.

U.S. Air Force Capt. David Puchalla, a 350th Air Refueling Squadron instructor pilot, flew with a Turkish KC-135 crew. Turkish air force Maj. Orcun Kus, the 101st Air Refueling Squadron commander, flew with an American crew during the second week of Red Flag 16-2.

“The Turkish air force KC-135 aircrew, maintenance and accompanying support personnel are the utmost professionals and are highly capable,” Puchalla said. “They have been an asset to Red Flag 16-2’s Tanker Task Force, and I have no doubts about their ability to fuel the fight of the future. I have witnessed nothing but the best during my flights aboard their Stratotanker.”

The exchange during the exercise allowed both countries’ tanker units to see their differences and similarities in how their tanker crews perform their missions of sustaining the fight and extending the global reach of their nations.

“I am very thankful we had the opportunity to make history with this flight between our aircraft and our nations,” Kus said. “This Red Flag flight will be remembered as an example of the cooperation between allies.”

The primary mission of Red Flag is to provide advanced, realistic and relevant training for aircrews and support personnel to think in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment. Having coalition forces fly together during an exercise prepares them for future real-world missions.

“The ability to interoperate air refueling operations with our Turkish allies showcases a distinct capability while demonstrating new methods of tanker employment,” said U.S. Capt. Alex Durstein, a 344th ARS pilot. “The lessons learned at Red Flag will help advance integration with our NATO partners and provide future coalition combatant commanders with increased operational flexibility.”

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