Defense

April 24, 2017
 

McConnell tankers enable first F-35 European deployment

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by Ashley M. Wright
McConnell AFB, Kansas

An F-35A Lightning II refuels over North America en route to its deployed location in Europe April 15, 2017. The U.S. Air Force deployed the F-35A Lightning IIs, approximately 250 Airmen and associated equipment, to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on a long-planned training deployment to conduct air training with other Europe based aircraft.

When the F-35A Lightning II deployed to Europe for the first time April 15, it was made possible by the backbone of the aerial refueling fleet, the KC-135 Stratotanker.

“The mission of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing is to refuel the fight,” said Col. Albert Miller, the 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander. “This particular flight was a significant milestone of the F-35 program, and demonstrates the U.S. Air Force’s global reach, something our total force team at McConnell (AFB) enables every day, making rapid, global mobility a reality.”

The F-35 deployed to Europe for the first time from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The multi-role fighter is deployed to maximize training opportunities, affirm enduring commitments to NATO allies and deter any actions that destabilize regional security.

The KC-135 from McConnell AFB was just a first step in building an air bridge to deploy the Air Force’s newest weapon’s platform for a training exercise with U.S. allies in Europe. Multiple refueling aircraft from four different bases provided more than 400,000 pounds of fuel for the fighters’ flight from the U.S. to Europe.

“It was exciting being able to contribute to the mission directly,” said Capt. Ben Hessney, a 349th Air Refueling Squadron aircraft commander for the flight.

Hessney added that a large amount of effort went into planning the success of the mission.

While this effort was a historic one, Miller stressed the value aerial refueling adds to all joint flying missions.

“The tip of the spear is not thrown, but carried by a tanker,” he said. “The might of our Air Force is in our ability to deliver effects anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. It’s the KC-135, and soon to be the KC-46 [Pegasus], which allows the United States to carry aid to our allies or deliver kinetic power to our enemies in a short amount of time.”




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