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Okies keep aircrews safe amid COVID-19

2nd Lt. Keisha Holback, 465th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, climbs into the flight deck of a KC-135R Stratotanker July 21, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Pilots are required to wear personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary Begy)

2nd Lt. Keisha Holback, 465th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, climbs into the flight deck of a KC-135R Stratotanker July 21, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Pilots are required to wear personal protective equipment to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary Begy)

Senior Airman Joshua Thomas, 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, sanitizes the flight deck of a KC-135R Stratotanker July 20, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Routine cleaning mitigates the spread of COVID-19 and keeps aircrews safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary Begy)

Senior Airman Joshua Thomas, 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, sanitizes the flight deck of a KC-135R Stratotanker July 20, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Routine cleaning mitigates the spread of COVID-19 and keeps aircrews safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary Begy)

2nd Lt. Keisha Holback and Capt. Ryan Burkitt, 465th air Refueling Squadron pilots, load cleaning supplies onto a KC-135R Stratotanker before a sortie July 21, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chad Dixon)

2nd Lt. Keisha Holback and Capt. Ryan Burkitt, 465th air Refueling Squadron pilots, load cleaning supplies onto a KC-135R Stratotanker before a sortie July 21, 2020, at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chad Dixon)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.-- Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 507th Operations Group leadership ensured the Okies refueling mission continued while keeping aircrew and maintainers safe by implementing new operating standards in order to conduct daily missions refueling aircraft from Alaska to Texas.

Col. Kenneth Humphrey, 507th Operations Group commander, said the ability to conduct the refueling mission is integral to the nation’s defense. However, the concerns over COVID-19 and its tendency to spread in close quarters prompted the 507th OG to adapt to keep everyone safe.

“Human nature and the closeness of our personnel make it difficult to ensure proper safeguard measures are adhered to in the aircraft, briefing rooms, and crew transportation, said Humphrey. “The aircraft poses multiple challenges due to the close confines and required interaction of personnel.”

With the help of the 507th ARW safety office, the Air Force Reserve Command logistics directorate and mission partners at the 730th Air Mobility Training Squadron at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, the OG implemented new flight operating standards to ensure a clean and safe environment to meet mission requirements.

Rigorous sanitizing measures and the use of personal protective equipment were put in place to include wearing masks, minimizing non-essential crew contact during pre-flights, and limiting the number of personnel on board the aircraft in order to reduce the chances of exposure. 

“Contamination across the flight line can easily be spread across the base and city,” he added. “Our STRATCOM and conventional missions remain a top priority. Additional crews have been designated and assigned that could be used in the event primary aircrew come down with the virus.”

Pilot and crew training and currency requirements are a priority. The ability to adapt and overcome has facilitated the ops group’s ability to maintain readiness.

“Our local flying schedule has been sufficient to meet these requirements ensuring we have safe, qualified aircrew to perform the mission and keep the jets flying,” Col. Humphrey added.

Col. Miles Heaslip, 507th ARW commander, said he thinks the members of our wing have done an outstanding job making sure all our missions run safely and effectively.

“The measures implemented by the Ops group once again prove we can overcome anything.”

COVID-19 has changed the nation but, thanks to the dedicated aircrew and maintainers, the 507th ARW will continue to fuel the figh