Flawless Execution

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tori Schultz
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Six pilots of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, were flying home from Afghanistan in a thunderstorm as the air craft began to run low on fuel. All they could do was hang tight and wait for a KC-135 Stratotanker to arrive to refuel them.

This dilemma began on Oct. 19, 2014, when a crew of A-10 pilots departed Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan in route to Southeast Asia following a seven month deployment. Maj. Rick Mitchell, 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot, was the cell lead of the six aircraft crew and he knew they would need fuel to finish the trip.

Capt. David Leibrand and Capt. David Urban, 91st Air Refueling Squadron pilot and copilot, and Senior Airman Matt Sadler, 91st ARS boom operator, were assigned to meet the A-10 crew and refuel them on their way to an en route stopover point. However, this seven hour refueling mission turned into a fight against time.

"The thunderstorms in Afghanistan prevented us from meeting the A-10 crew; we spent 40 minutes flying around the country in search of clear enough weather to meet up with them," said Leibrand. "All the while, we were burning extra fuel and so were the A-10's."

The crew found a clear airspace large enough to accommodate air refueling and had to stay in the area in order to safely refuel their aircraft. This resulted in a further delay and both crews continuously burning fuel reserves.

Adding to the gravity of the situation, the crew had to decide if they had enough fuel to leave the safety of a nearby divert airfield before going out over the Indian Ocean. Urban used the aircraft's satellite phone and called their operations desk to confirm that there would be good weather for landing. Once it was confirmed, the crew had to determine exactly how much fuel the A-10s would need to complete the mission.

"Using this information, we quickly and carefully made the calculated decision to continue the mission," said Leibrand. "I knew I could count on Sadler to safely complete the air refueling, despite poor visibility conditions."

Both crews flew an additional 75 minutes longer than expected and offloaded over 10,000 additional pounds of fuel to the A-10's.

"Nobody kicks butt without tanker gas!" said Sadler. "The KC-135 has an impact on every airborne mission in the both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Inherent Resolve. From fighters and bombers to reconnaissance aircraft, the KC-135's make sure they stay airborne long enough to accomplish their mission."

Editor's Note:
This is the 3rd deployment for both Capt. Leibrand and Urban and the 5th deployment for Senior Airman Sadler.