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Tanker helps extend missions

By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Sept. 28, 2001) -- No vehicle, with the exception of a few submarines, can run forever without taking on fuel.

And while the operator of an automobile can simply pull off to the side if he fails to fuel up, an aircraft doesn't have such a luxury. Such a restriction could hamper critical airborne missions.

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Fortunately, U.S. military aircraft flying missions over Northern Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch needn't worry about those restrictions.

"Our mission is to provide fuel for air refueling and to extend the range and the duration of the missions we participate in," said Maj. Paul LoBue, 150th Air Refueling Squadron, McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey.

LoBue, a member of the New Jersey Air National Guard, is a full time pilot. As a civilian, he flies a Boeing 737 moving passengers from one part of the country to the other. As a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, he flies a KC-135 Stratotanker.

The KC-135 is essentially a flying gas station that takes fuel to aircraft already in the air. It holds around 32,000 gallons of fuel, enough gas to drive the average automobile around the earth nearly 36 times.

Aircraft needing fuel align themselves under the KC-135 and wait for the boom operator to attach a fuel line to their craft. The duration of a mid-air refueling would depend on the aircraft.

"It depends on how much fuel we are giving them," said Capt. Bill Liess, a KC-135 commander with the 141st Air Refueling Squadron. "It could take a half-hour or so with a C-5 or a bomber. It could take five to 10 minutes on a fighter."

Liess is also with the New Jersey Air National Guard. When he is not in a green flight suit, he flies for the civilian transportation sector as commander of an MD-80 passenger aircraft.

Both LoBue and Liess served time in the active duty Air Force before embarking on a civilian pilot career. LoBue served for some ten years as both a refueler and as a reconnaissance pilot. He saw military action in the Middle East more than a decade ago as a part of Operation Desert Storm. Liess has served for nearly as long.

While the technical aspects of flying remain the same, there are some differences between commanding a military aircraft and a commercial aircraft.

"Well, the principles of flying are the same, but the rules under which you operate are entirely different," said Liess. "The FAA guides things very closely for airline travel. There is very little discretion on the part of the crew for many things. In the military world, the pilot has a lot more latitude in how he operates the aircraft."

The significance of recent events in the U.S. as well as being in an area so close to a perceived enemy is not lost on the two pilots, who will return to civilian flying duty after their ONW rotation.

"It's good to feel I have a place, and some ability at least in the future to combat the threat," said Liess.

"It feels good to contribute to the efforts," agreed Lobue.

"We are going to go on, airlines may suffer a little bit, but ultimately, I have faith in the American people to demonstrate resilience and to get back to business," said Liess.

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