Northern Exposure: Co-pilots train in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Lauren Kelly
  • 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Thirteen personnel with the 507th Air Refueling Wing here went to Alaska in July to refuel F-22s assigned to the 90th Fighter Squadron.

The group of Reservists, consisting of three co-pilots, two aircraft commanders, and two boom operators of the 507th Operations Group and six 507th Maintenance Group maintenance personnel, traveled to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for a week over the summer.

According to the 465th Air Refueling Squadron director of operations and aircraft commander, Lt. Col. Marv Ashbaker, this business effort was designed to give the co-pilots more hands-on experience flying the tanker.

“Exposing the co-pilots to a variety of different airfields, receivers and airspace environments is integral to their training and eventual transition from co-pilots to aircraft commanders,” said Ashbaker.

According to KC-135 co-pilot 1st Lt. Duncan Sutherland, it was his first trip to Alaska with the Okies and it was even more unique because he was formerly a fuels system engineer for Lockheed Martin and worked with the F-22 for two years.

“Traveling to Alaska was an enriching experience for me,” said Sutherland. “Of course, the scenery flying over Alaska was beautiful, but we also had fun sightseeing and there were some cool receivers. So now, being a tanker pilot and getting to refuel them from the other side was awesome.”

Sutherland said due to the recent deployment, the unit’s flying hours have decreased due to limited aircraft availability and he appreciated the opportunity to gain flying hours. Sutherland expects to reach his hour limits as a co-pilot within the next two to three years before being upgraded to aircraft commander.

According to 1st Lt. Aubrey Crawley, 465th Air Refueling Squadron current operations officer, a business effort like this requires extensive coordination with other units with the intent to meet training needs, not only for the 507th ARW but for other units striving to meet flying goals.

“Communication is key and crucial, especially other current operations shops,” Crawley said.

“Tankers and their fuel are a limiting factor right now for training and are in high demand. F-22s have currencies and missions they have to accomplish as well year round, and our tankers facilitate accomplishing their training needs.”

Crawley is currently a co-pilot and will be upgraded to aircraft commander in the coming months. The 507th ARW is planning a trip in the near future, which will act as a type of pre-evaluation to the aircraft commander upgrade course for Crawley.

“I think we do a really good job here at the Okies from an operational and training standpoint,” said Crawley. “Our operational mission is going 365 days a year, and we plan trips and training scenarios designed to give co-pilots the opportunity to further their training, ultimately leading to upgrade opportunities.”

Overall, the 507th Air Refueling Wing’s trip to Alaska exposed the co-pilots to various scenarios not available in Oklahoma or surrounding states, enabling the unit to deliver 153,000 lbs. of fuel to 14 receivers.