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344th ARS helps fuel McConnell’s mission

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- The 344th Air Refueling Squadron's mission is to train and equip flight crew members to perform aerial refueling and airlift, wherever and whenever directed, according to Lt. Col. John Newberry, 344th ARS commander.

Air refueling is vital because the KC-135's allow other aircraft greater range and loiter capabilities. This means they can fly farther and stay airborne longer, which is essential in the success of the Global War on Terrorism.

"The ability to land in war-type scenarios is not always there," Colonel Newberry said.

The 344th ARS can refuel just about everything in the military. With the capability of carrying up to 200,000 pound of transfer fuel, the KC-135's are basically enablers. For a better idea on exactly how much fuel that is, the average passenger car would operate for more than a year on the amount of fuel transferred through the air refueling boom in one minute.

"We provide the necessary fuel to other aircraft to get their mission done more effectively and efficiently," said Capt. Matt Parker, a 344th ARS pilot. "A majority of our refueling missions overseas involve fighter aircraft, which with our gas are able to stay airborne longer and provide the crucial support and firepower to our troops on the ground."

A crew on a KC-135 mission usually consists of a pilot, boom operator and a navigator. These crew members work together in the process of air refueling. A navigator does the flight planning and charts, and while the pilots are the eyes in the front of the plane, a boom operator takes responsibility for everything behind the pilot seat, including cargo, customs and the air refueling.

"We are the eyes and the ears in the back of the plane," Senior Airman. Brandon Holaday, a 344th boom operator said.

The process starts by getting together two aircraft from two different locations in the sky to pass fuel from one to the other. The KC-135 provides the fuel, which is stored in the wings and underbelly of the aircraft. This fuel is usually passed the other aircraft through the boom, a KC-135's primary fuel transfer method.

"I am responsible for coordinating the join up of the two aircraft, and once the receiver is attached to the boom, flying the most precise and stable platform possible to successfully complete the air refueling as quickly and safely as possible," Captain Parker said.

With air refueling needed anytime, anywhere, members of flight crew's travel all over the country and overseas.

On average, a crew will fly up to two times a week. Things such as aircraft condition and weather can be factors in how often a crew goes on a refueling mission.

"My favorite part about being a pilot is all the amazing opportunities I am given -- traveling all around the world, getting a chance to do what very few ever will and serving my country," Captain Parker said.