The Air Force’s tanker crews live by the mantra that a tanker “will always be there” when pilots of whatever military aircraft need them, says Capt. Brad Talley, a KC-135 co-pilot deployed to Southwest Asia with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron. Talley, from the 319th Air Refueling Wing at Grand Forks AFB, N.D., and his cohorts since June on this deployment have flown more than 1,348 sorties, offloading more than 61 million pounds of fuel to some 5,619 aircraft. The KC-135 aircrews and their aircraft maintainers “are now deploying for anywhere from 120 to 220 days a year,” said Talley, adding that some airmen “are out here three to four rotations a year.” TSgt. James Erickson, a crew chief from the 319th ARW who is on his second deployment this year, notes that some of the modifications done to keep the 50-year-old tankers flying “come with headaches.” He said, “When you’ve been working your butt off all night on an airplane and you’re getting it fixed, it’s nice to see that airplane taking off. … It’s instant gratification.” (379th Air Expeditionary Wing report by SrA. Clinton Atkins)
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.