Operation Vespucci demonstrates global reach during Southern Hemisphere tour

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Kristin Nielsen
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

A KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from the 6th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill Air Force Base and the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., successfully circumnavigated the Southern Hemisphere in an endurance mission covering more than 23,000 nautical miles Jan. 23-30.

This mission was the first-time aerial refueling aircraft from two different air refueling squadrons across the continental United States flew such an incredible endurance mission, showcasing the strength and global reach capabilities of the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft.

The total trip was 168 hours in duration with 49.5 hours in the air for the MacDill crew and 53.5 hours for Fairchild.

“This was a unique mission, one that speaks volumes on how capable our tanker fleet is,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Taylor Johnston, aircraft commander for Operation Vespucci. “We were able to truly prove our mission statement, ‘anytime, anywhere.’”

The crews made their first stop in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, then Cape Town, South Africa, Perth, Australia, and Christchurch, New Zealand, before making their final stop in Tahiti, French Polynesia.

After landing in each country, the aircrew met with local representatives and government officials to strengthen relationships between the countries and thank them for their hospitality. They worked with each nation to coordinate with local customs, immigration, support vehicles and fuel to ensure a smooth transition between each country.

“The support of our international partners is crucial to maintaining global reach and global power," said Johnston.

The aircrew and maintainers went through numerous time zones, including the international dateline, but that didn’t slow them down. Operations continued on schedule as the 6th ARW’s maintainers’ efforts ensured each aircraft’s on-time arrival at each new destination.

“It was an amazing experience to witness so many cultures in such a short amount of time,” said Capt. Andres Velez, a KC-135 pilot assigned to the 50th Air Refueling Squadron. “It really put into perspective how important these relationships with our international partners are.”

The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 60 years. This unique asset enhances the Air Force's capability to accomplish its primary mission of global reach. It also provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. The KC-135 is also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations.

Air Mobility Command provides unrivaled airlift, air refueling, aeromedical evacuation, global air mobility support and Global Mobility Mission Command to project, connect, maneuver and sustain the Joint Force to achieve national objectives.