A tanker crew saved an F-16 pilot from ejecting over ISIS-held territory during a recent strike sortie, officials revealed. The 384th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 crew deployed to Al Udeid AB, Qatar, from McConnell AFB, Kan., broke-off refue?ling a pair of A-10s to respond to the inflight emergency last year. “The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds,” 384th ARS pilot Capt. Nathanial Beer said in a release, Feb. 9. The F-16 pilot attempted to troubleshoot the problem after a second refueling attempt failed. He deduced that roughly 80 percent the fighter’s onboard fuel was trapped in the wing and external tanks and couldn’t be transferred to the F-16’s reservoir tanks and onward to the engine. The fighter could only take on 15 minutes of usable fuel at a time, so the KC-135 crew escorted the crippled jet, refueling at several minute intervals all the way to a safe landing back in friendly territory. Beer, fellow pilot Maj. Robert Bradley, and boom operator SrA. Jonathan Nigl knew “the risks to their own safety, [and] they put the life of the F-16 pilot first,” 384th ARS commander Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg said. “What motivates them is a higher calling to be the best at the mission and take care of their fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen,” he added.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.