LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — British, United States and Australian military jets soared high over the Nevada desert this week doing real-world combat operations against simulated Chinese fighter aircraft and air defenses.
The training was part of Red Flag based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. 8 News Now was on board with British forces for more than four hours on Britain’s KC-2 Voyager refueling tanker aircraft. During the mission, the tanker refueled both U.S. and British fighter jets.
Even though this Red Flag, which lasts three weeks, simulated an ongoing threat from China, U.S. Air Force Col. Jared Hutchinson, commander of the 414th Combat Training Squadron, said there was no connection or change of plans due to recent events involving a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S.
The Voyager aircraft is actually an Airbus A330, a plane similar to the ones seen flying tourists in and out of Las Vegas every day. But the military version of the aircraft has been modified so it can provide jets in flight with up to 132,000 pounds of fuel.
During Wednesday’s flight, the Voyager supplied more than 37 metric tons of jet fuel — or almost 83,000 pounds. This works out to approximately 12,388 gallons of military Jet-A fuel. Air Commodore John Lyle, commander of the RAF’s Air Mobility Force, said that even after flying the refueling mission for more than four hours the tanker still had enough fuel to fly to Hawaii.
The interior of the Voyager aircraft could easily be mistaken for a commercial airliner if it were not for the multiple fighter jets pulling alongside to refuel. One might say it often pulls double duty. If needed, the tanker can transport 291 personnel and cargo. Then, once passengers have been unloaded, its mission changes to a refueling tanker.
During this flight, jets from Britain and the U.S. appeared to slowly creep toward a large hose hanging from the Voyager’s wings. In reality, fighter jets are slowing down to around 200 to 300 mph. By the end of the mission, more than a dozen jets had been fueled, including Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, Australian EA-18G Growlers, U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, and several U.S. Marine F-35B jets.
The hoses that extend from the wings of the tanker are controlled by a separate airman in the cockpit. This airman ensures the basket at the end of the hose engages with the probe that has been extended from the jet receiving fuel.
Air Commodore John Lyle, commander of the RAF’s Air Mobility Force, said this mission went almost as planned. There was one issue with a jet’s computer registering that fuel was being pumped from the tanker, so the team had the jet back up and re-engage the basket and everything was normal.
Landing back at Nellis AFB, the tanker was preceded by an American refueling tanker and followed by an enormous B-52 Stratofortress bomber. The daylight was fading, and a couple of rescue helicopters were flying patterns around the base.
As the crew of the Voyager departed, we learned that on many days its job was only half over. Quite often during Red Flag the tanker will be back in the air within a few hours for a refueling mission – after dark.