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USAF KC-135 Orientation Flight and Red Flag Experience

USAF KC-135 Orientation Flight and Red Flag Experience

1st Lt. Michael Atkin, CAP
Jack Schofield Cadet Squadron

On 27 July 2018, I was invited to take part in a refueling flight on a KC-135 Stratotanker as part of the Red Flag 18-3 exercise. So, how did I get an invitation for this flight? In March of 2018, I was inducted as an Honorary Commander at Nellis Air Force Base. As part of this program, I'm invited to take part in many events over the year with the intent of furthering the Program's mission of "Encouraging the exchange of ideas, experiences, and friendships between the civilian and military communities."

Red Flag exercises provide mission commanders, maintenance personnel, ground controllers, and air, space and cyber operators the opportunity to experience realistic combat scenarios to prepare for future warfare. The goal of Red Flag 18-3 is to maintain air, space and cyber superiority through innovation, integration and interoperability. In addition to American forces, the Columbian Air Force participated in this iteration of Red Flag. Their participation signified the opportunity for increased training of the Columbian pilots, and provided for an environment of continued learning to ensure a high level of mutual readiness between the two countries. 

My day started at the Base Operations building at 0930 hours for a meet-and-greet and breakfast. Following that we attended a briefing at the 64th Aggressor Squadron Building. During that briefing we heard from Maj. Gen. Gersten (Commander of the USAFWC) regarding the Red Flag exercise and an overview of the Base Operations in general. He stressed that the Air Force is fighting Air, Ground, Space, and Cyber threats in these exercises. He also pointed out the high level of interoperability and teamwork needed to complete these challenges. Next we heard from Brig. Gen. Novotny (Commander of the 57th Wing) regarding Wing operations and the world wide mission of the Air Force. Finally we heard from Col. Stahlbaum (USSOUTHCOM) about partnership building and his assignment in Columbia. He also spoke about how the United States is helping the Columbian government move forward as a partner of the U.S. The main takeaway from this briefing was that Red Flag is the Super Bowl/World Cup/Tour de Frace of Air Force training. Pilots are invited to attend Red Flag. Everyone applies and has to be accepted in order to attend. There is so much going on at any one time, cooperation and cohesiveness are absolute traits that need to exist in order to deal with all the treats. 

After the briefing, we met in the Operations Center for a briefing with Col. Craddock; 99th Wing Commander. Col. Craddock explained that his Wing controls everything at Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and the Nevada Testing and Training Range (NTTR). He explained the important function of the NTTR, the need for the airspace and the ability to train, and the future of Nellis, Creech, and the NTTR. This was followed by a flight briefing from the KC-135 crew about our refueling mission and safety aboard the aircraft. We boarded the aircraft about 1300 hours and departed Nellis on our way to NTTR to refuel the 64th Aggressor F-16's that we were participating in Red Flag. It only took us about 30 minutes to get on station for the refueling. I was lucky enough to get to sit in the cockpit of the KC-135 for the flight out to the rendezvous point. We orbited for about 10 minutes before the F-16's began to appear off our left wing. One by-one the F-16's moved from the left wing, positioned themselves under the refueling boom to refuel, and then moved to the right wing to await the remainder of the squadron. It is an amazing aerial ballet to watch! These Air Force pilots make it look so easy and flawless. After the F-16's had finished refueling, they gave us a wave and peeled off in a spectacular fashion. 

Below are some additional photographs of the refueling. It was truly amazing! I feel very lucky to have taken part in this event. I encourage everyone to get involved at Nellis. The Airmen are very supportive of the Civil Air Patrol and look forward to interacting with our Cadets. Their assistance is a little-tapped resource that we need to utilize. And, if you're lucky, maybe you'll be the next Honorary Commander- and you can partake in this sort of once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

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