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KC-135 Low Level/Special Operations Air Refueling

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posted on Dec, 30 2014 @ 06:42 PM
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A lot of people are enthralled with the refueling of test aircraft or with unmanned air refueling, but not a lot of people know the mighty KC-135 does Special Operations Air Refueling (SOAR) at low level. I've been researching it a little bit lately and thought I'd share.

SOAR is done with the eight KC-135R(RT)s that are modified to be receiver capable. They also are the only KC-135s with Navigators, so that should tell you something about the mission. The aircraft belong to the 22nd Operations Group of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base.



I found a mention of a KC-135 SOAR cockpit upgrade here. Maybe it's for the Nav to assist with the low level stuff.

This is a really interesting paper written by a dual qualified KC-135 pilot and nav at Air Command and Staff College in 1988 about the feasibility and possible future use of low level refueling in the KC-135 in actual operations. It finds that refueling between 1-3,000 feet in the airplane would be affective with regards to threat penetration and avoiding detection. It also says that anything below 1,000 feet is pretty much not necessary for doing AR.



Most of this SOAR stuff is classified, but there are some mentions of it by the Air Force around the web. This article talks about an exercise that SOAR crews participated in. A page about the 509th Weapons Squadron talks about how KC-135 Weapons School students get checked out on SOAR during the six-month course.

Gunship on the boom.

The purpose of all this is to offload gas to special operations MC/AC-130s in higher threat environments where flying higher means an increased risk of getting shot down, but the receivers still need their gas closer to the threats in order to get to their targets.

Anyway, I thought it was cool and that you all would like it too.




posted on Dec, 30 2014 @ 07:00 PM
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a reply to: justwanttofly

This a great post.
I don't have much to add.
I'm no expert buy far on the upgrades.
As an AARF 2. ( retired )
When the KC- 135's would land at Greater Pittsburgh. We would be on standby.
The 171'st was across the way at Allegheny County Airport Authority.
They were going to Mothball them.. The Senator put a stop to that.
We're also lucky to have the 911'th there across from runway 2-8 left and 2-8 center...
911'the were the C-130's .
Like clock work..... three KC-135's are passing over now.. so in 20 mins... the. C-130's will be flying buy. :-)



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 01:20 AM
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LOL....
Let me clarify.
It's not AARF..lol
It's ARFF.. Or Aircraft Rescue Firefighter 2..
You have a good one...
back to Air Asia thread..



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 08:16 AM
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originally posted by: justwanttofly
A lot of people are enthralled with the refueling of test aircraft or with unmanned air refueling, but not a lot of people know the mighty KC-135 does Special Operations Air Refueling (SOAR) at low level. I've been researching it a little bit lately and thought I'd share.

SOAR is done with the eight KC-135R(RT)s that are modified to be receiver capable. They also are the only KC-135s with Navigators, so that should tell you something about the mission. The aircraft belong to the 22nd Operations Group of the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base.



I found a mention of a KC-135 SOAR cockpit upgrade here. Maybe it's for the Nav to assist with the low level stuff.

This is a really interesting paper written by a dual qualified KC-135 pilot and nav at Air Command and Staff College in 1988 about the feasibility and possible future use of low level refueling in the KC-135 in actual operations. It finds that refueling between 1-3,000 feet in the airplane would be affective with regards to threat penetration and avoiding detection. It also says that anything below 1,000 feet is pretty much not necessary for doing AR.



Most of this SOAR stuff is classified, but there are some mentions of it by the Air Force around the web. This article talks about an exercise that SOAR crews participated in. A page about the 509th Weapons Squadron talks about how KC-135 Weapons School students get checked out on SOAR during the six-month course.

Gunship on the boom.

The purpose of all this is to offload gas to special operations MC/AC-130s in higher threat environments where flying higher means an increased risk of getting shot down, but the receivers still need their gas closer to the threats in order to get to their targets.

Anyway, I thought it was cool and that you all would like it too.


Good write up, I always love when people on here write about the tanker world! I'll throw some recent info your way just to help you along in your research. First, the KC-135RT models really have nothing to do with SOAR, per se. They are the jets that do the spec ops A/R, but not because they are refuelable. Its because the Grissom boys had them when they were doing the feasability testing back in the 80s and it was easier to check out pilots and booms on SOAR when you had both jets able to receive fuel. Another reason is because of the "extra equipment" associated with low altitude air refueling. Since there's only a handful of that particular tanker, they decided that they could upgrade those jets alone and never have to give them away to other wings or whatever. However with where SOAR is nowadays, you can perform it on just about any tanker in the inventory to a certain altitude.

Being a boom operator and having attended Combat Flight Instructor school, I was certified on LAAR and i can tell you if freaking sucks! Now, when they talk about low altitude air refueling, they are talking in the 7-10 thousand feet range, not 3000 and below. And the reasoning behind it has changed. First, as you pointed out, we do SOAR with MC/AC-130's and a few "other" aircraft. The need to refuel at extremely low altitude to avoid detection is long gone with modern radar. Now its just a plush thing to help out the low flying gun ships or the occasional SEAL element flying around in an MC-130 or something. That way they dont need to come up to a higher altitude to get gas.

The normal boom operator and crew can conduct air refueling down to 10,000 feet agl with no additional training. To go below that, the boom operator must be an instructor boom with 1500 hours of flight time, and qualified on LAAR. The reason is at that low of altitude and a slow airspeed like with the herc, the boom would be so heavy that the boom operator would have to use more force than he/she normally has to give just to keep the boom at 30 on the elevation. In other words, its freaking heavy as hell. However if your going faster, even at a low altitude, it gets easier, as long as theres no turbulence. But if i remember correctly, when i got out in 2006, the minimum altitude for any refueling was 6000 feet agl. Im pretty sure that hasn't changed.

As for the special mods to those aircraft, alot of its classified. What i can tell you is they have countermeasures and are night vision qualified


Any other questions feel free to ask.



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 08:37 AM
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a reply to: boomer135

Fascinating stuff boomer, thanks.

When you mention "other" aircraft besides the -130's can you give us a little more insight on what they may be?



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 08:43 AM
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My father spent years working on -135s. They announced a plan to have more aircraft do low level refueling, and I thought he was going to lose it. He was so pissed they were gonna screw his jets up.



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 10:37 AM
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originally posted by: Sammamishman
a reply to: boomer135

Fascinating stuff boomer, thanks.

When you mention "other" aircraft besides the -130's can you give us a little more insight on what they may be?


no



posted on Dec, 31 2014 @ 08:57 PM
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a reply to: boomer135

Thanks for the updated info boom.



posted on Jan, 1 2015 @ 12:51 AM
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I saw the B-2 refueled at a very low level (as in I could see the refueling with just my eyes) on the NTTR. They used a KC-10. The refueling was not on an established track. They did the turn around near the Cedar Pipeline Ranch.

If you are using a TACAN, I don't see how stealthy this refueling could be. I'm assuming all this is for special ops. Based on Red Flag, which should be real world, the tankers are always out of theater.



posted on Jan, 1 2015 @ 05:56 AM
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originally posted by: boomer135

originally posted by: Sammamishman
a reply to: boomer135

Fascinating stuff boomer, thanks.

When you mention "other" aircraft besides the -130's can you give us a little more insight on what they may be?


no


Um wow i just now noticed that the rest of my message is gone and all its says is no...

it should say...

not really. but they arent anything special that you havent heard of. Just some aircraft have the LAAR lower limit classified for different reasons.



posted on Jan, 1 2015 @ 06:13 AM
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originally posted by: gariac
I saw the B-2 refueled at a very low level (as in I could see the refueling with just my eyes) on the NTTR. They used a KC-10. The refueling was not on an established track. They did the turn around near the Cedar Pipeline Ranch.

If you are using a TACAN, I don't see how stealthy this refueling could be. I'm assuming all this is for special ops. Based on Red Flag, which should be real world, the tankers are always out of theater.


You know that area more than any of us on here gariac. Any landforms or something you could guestimate an altitude that it took place? The reason i ask is that the B-2 is considered a heavy aircraft and one that does its own damage to the bow wave of the tanker in the first place. Its a challenge to refuel them at altitude so I couldn't imagine refueling one at low level!

And yes the TACAN is a big flag when it comes to stealth. We have EMCON procedures that take care of this, although turing off A/A TACAN is only done on the most restrictive EMCOM 4:



EMCON Four - Emission out no [sic] emitters will be used
unless specifically authorized by the plan supported.
This includes radios, doppler, radio navigation
transmitters [VOR,TACAN], radar, radio altimeters, IFF,
exterior lights, etc. This option will not be practiced
during peacetime operations unless specifically tasked by
(Numbered Air Force] or (Higher Headquarters] due to
(Federal Aviation Administration] identification
requirement


The only time in my career that ive seen EMCON 4 was during the first night of OIF and about 3 days after that. It was a cluster f#$& to say the least. receivers were simply finding a tanker to get gas from, even if they werent fragged for that tanker.

In this OP though, I'm sure that numbered air force gave these crews permission to test emcon 4 with LAAR. The entire idea from the beginning was to get as close to the target as possible with the receivers in tow. Flying at 3000 feet nap of the earth (for a tanker) type stuff, the theory was that we could get within 100 miles of the target before the radar (depending on its heighth of course, again not my strong suit, but you may know more about this than i do) paints us as a tanker. I'm not 100 percent what difference a radar would make at a height of 30 feet compared to one at 50 feet but im guessing its pretty substantial.

But like i was sayiing, all this gung-ho low altitude, sub 3k foot refueling went out the window with more modern radar, and of course our enemies look down/shoot down capability. So now we just use it as MC/AC 7-10k agl type stuff. Honestly its really not that fun if your the boom. lol



posted on Jan, 1 2015 @ 10:12 PM
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a reply to: boomer135

This was in 1999 or 2000. I really can't estimate the altitude with any authority. I could see the planes without my contacts, so I know they were low. The noise woke me up. Needless to say I wasn't ready with the camera.

There are at least two unpublished refueling tracks on the NTTR. It is their airpspace, so why should they publish them. ;-) One is a track that runs just west of the ET highway and terminates (or at least for the flight I saw) at the Cedar Pipeline Ranch. This same track is visible from Rachel. The other I have been told of second hand. There is a Monitor Valley track that is visible from the ranches south of highway 6.

The Red Flag refueling is done on published tracks. They usually use the track west of the NTTR.
AR625
You might have to give the map time to load. The server is in LA and lots of DDOSing still going on there.



posted on Jan, 2 2015 @ 08:40 AM
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a reply to: gariac

Outside of red flag, there usually isnt any certain tracks we use in the area. If its a support mission for edwards or groom and we are in the NTS, usually dreamland will just vector us around depending on where the test aircraft are at. And to keep us out of the box.



posted on Jan, 2 2015 @ 07:34 PM
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originally posted by: boomer135
a reply to: gariac

Outside of red flag, there usually isnt any certain tracks we use in the area. If its a support mission for edwards or groom and we are in the NTS, usually dreamland will just vector us around depending on where the test aircraft are at. And to keep us out of the box.


Dreamland or Nellis control? NTTR or NTS?

Dreamland, which is the tower at Desert Rock, tends to handle non-military aircraft that enter the range. It is useful to monitor since interesting civilian aircraft enter the NTTR via the NTS. The WB57 (callsign Sunshine 1 at the time) used Dreamland (Mercury radio) 126.15MHz.

Military aircraft tend to contact Blackjack. Blackjack added a VHF frequency, but it is one of those 139MHZ frequencies that is just above where civilian aircract radios work. So either they get a handoff to Dreamland/Mercury, which in turn can probably phone Groom tower, or Nellis control takes over.

Dreamland Approach/Control/Mercury radio 118.7MHZ 126.15MHz 261.1MHz 255.8MHz
Blackjack 139.9MHz 377.8MHz

I listed all the known Dreamland frequencies, but 126.15MHz is the one normally heard. They handle traffic from the Lockheed Martin facility at Yucca Lake since it lacks a tower.

Nellis frequencies
The General Atomics frequencies turned out to be useful since they are illegally used at the NTTR.



posted on Jan, 3 2015 @ 07:07 AM
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originally posted by: gariac

originally posted by: boomer135
a reply to: gariac

Outside of red flag, there usually isnt any certain tracks we use in the area. If its a support mission for edwards or groom and we are in the NTS, usually dreamland will just vector us around depending on where the test aircraft are at. And to keep us out of the box.


Dreamland or Nellis control? NTTR or NTS?

Dreamland, which is the tower at Desert Rock, tends to handle non-military aircraft that enter the range. It is useful to monitor since interesting civilian aircraft enter the NTTR via the NTS. The WB57 (callsign Sunshine 1 at the time) used Dreamland (Mercury radio) 126.15MHz.

Military aircraft tend to contact Blackjack. Blackjack added a VHF frequency, but it is one of those 139MHZ frequencies that is just above where civilian aircract radios work. So either they get a handoff to Dreamland/Mercury, which in turn can probably phone Groom tower, or Nellis control takes over.

Dreamland Approach/Control/Mercury radio 118.7MHZ 126.15MHz 261.1MHz 255.8MHz
Blackjack 139.9MHz 377.8MHz

I listed all the known Dreamland frequencies, but 126.15MHz is the one normally heard. They handle traffic from the Lockheed Martin facility at Yucca Lake since it lacks a tower.

Nellis frequencies
The General Atomics frequencies turned out to be useful since they are illegally used at the NTTR.


I remember calling whoever was controlling us dreamland. And I remember that the same voice that would vector us around is also the same voice that cleared aircraft for takeoff or landing out of groom (i.e. tower guys i guess). If I remember correctly, isn't blackjack the controller at edwards? or am i thinking of something else?



posted on Jan, 3 2015 @ 01:37 PM
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a reply to: boomer135

"blackjack" isn't controller at Edwards, it's for all Nellis Range, I guess. Edwards has "Joshua"

Here is a full list.



posted on Jan, 3 2015 @ 07:30 PM
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originally posted by: SpeedFanatic
a reply to: boomer135

"blackjack" isn't controller at Edwards, it's for all Nellis Range, I guess. Edwards has "Joshua"

Here is a full list.


Joshua thats right. Thanks!



posted on Jan, 3 2015 @ 09:51 PM
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a reply to: SpeedFanatic

That list has a lot of unused frequencies. The Basecamp NDB has been ripped out of the freakin' ground for at least 4 years. This list is more accurate.
Nellis range frequencies, but some EDW too
This list is comprised of frequencies actually scanned (shocker! not just pulled from the interwebs), plus pulled from "documents" (nudge nudge wink wink say no more say no more).

Incidentally, that remark about PYD being the outer marker is also wrong. I've located all the NTTR beacon locations:
Nellis range beacons

Basically these other websites need to do more stealing of my data. ;-)



posted on Jan, 4 2015 @ 03:52 AM
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a reply to: gariac

Great work, gariac!



posted on Jan, 4 2015 @ 04:53 PM
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I've got some experience with these guys. I'm a current crew member on AC-130H gunships, and these guys have always been top notch.

Edit to add my perspective.

e dit on 4-1-2015 by JedisonsDad because: to add a picture




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