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McConnell welcomes L.A. Times

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Genevieve Morris
  • 22nd ARW Public Affairs
McConnell Air Force Base had an opportunity to March 6, show off their aircraft. Peter Spiegel, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, visited McConnell to write a story about the need for the proposed new aircraft.

Mr. Spiegel started off his day by watching a KC-135 launch and receiving a unit mission brief from Col. Donald J. Halpin, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander. Colonel Halpin explained to Mr. Spiegel that age and the high operations tempo takes its toll on these aircraft and requires more work to keep them flying.

Staff Sgt. Phillip Boucher from the 22nd Maintenance Squadron showed Mr. Spiegel some of the specific areas on the aircraft that they have been repaired several times, but have aged and need total replacement. During a tour of the ISO dock Sergeant Boucher was able to point out evident leaks, corrosion and normal wear and tear on the aircraft that was representative of the 50-year-old McConnell fleet.

Mr. Spiegel enjoyed a working lunch at Java Ops with more than 15 Team McConnell members who work every day with the KC-135 aircraft, including pilots, boom operators, crew chiefs and maintenance specialists. Their colorful stories brought even more insight about the fleet and the loyalty the members feel about their cherished aircraft. One pilot noted, "I just borrow the aircraft from the crew chief, I have to promise him I will bring it back unharmed."

The lunch group shared stories of good times and bad times with the KC-135, most of which are older than parents of the people in the crowd, with Mr. Spiegel. One person in the group explained about the antiquated heating and cooling system on the aircraft and the urban legend of putting a soda can on the floor near your feet during flight and having it freeze solid while your upper body broke out in a sweat.

They went on to further explain the system was built during the Cold War era, only five years after the B-52 Bomber was made. At that time, the heating and cooling system was designed to benefit the circuit breaker board, not warm and cool the crew and passengers. While the boom operator in the back may be warm and toasty, the pilots could be suffering from a mild case of hypothermia. Senior Airman Sarah Buechler, a boom operator from the 349th Air Refueling Squadron, explained that most booms have learned to layer her clothing during flights and bring along sleeping bags to keep warm. Heat is a nicety, not a necessity during flight, she said.

Mr. Spiegel ended his visit on the flight line touring a KC-135 and viewing the boom up close, as well as talking with the crew and support members of the aircraft.

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Bishop, with the 384th Air Refueling Squadron, explained to Mr. Spiegel about how the markings on the underside of the aircraft guide the receiving aircraft to line up with the refueler. He also pointed out the different types of booms on the aircraft, including the multi-point refueling system and the main boom, the aerial refueling boom.

The visit will culminate in a story in the next couple of weeks in the L.A. Times discussing why there is a need for the aging fleet of Air Force KC-135's to be replaced.