Air to Air refueling in and of itself is difficult. But doing air to air refueling between two behemoth aircraft like the KC-10 and the B-52 over the arctic circle–now that’s a real challenge.

Last week the 305th Air Mobility Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in southern New Jersey, proved that two enormous aircraft could be “comfortably” in the same airspace. Comfortable is a loose term.

With four KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tankers, the 305th headed up to the Arctic Circle to meet up with three B-52 Stratofortress for air to air refueling and other operational work. The exercise, dubbed “Polar Roar”, is an effort to integrate US strategic bombers with partner nations.

“It’s almost like an organized chaos,” said Senior Master Sgt.t Mark Barnette, with the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron, onboard one of the KC-10s participating in the Arctic leg of the exercise. “The Air Force has been doing air-to-air refueling for decades, but it is an organized chaos that we have mastered. You’d never get two airliners within 30 feet of each other, and we do it every day.”

The KC-10’s took off with about 280,000 pounds of fuel on board. The B-52 pilots request an offload of anywhere between 50-65000 pounds of fuel. Using a 6lbs per US gallon conversion rate the radio request would sound something like: “we need 10,833 gallons, please”!

There’s no substitute for airborne refueling and strategic bombing relies on the capability. B-2 Stealth aircraft make strategic bombing runs halfway across the world, only to return back to home base at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. Air to air refueling is a key to this capability.

“Some people describe tanker air refueling as this: ‘Imagine you’re going down the highway at 65 miles an hour and you come up next to another car, and are trying to basically pass a cup of coffee from one window to the next,’” 32nd Air Refueling Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Rob McAllister said.

Only that cup of coffee is really as big as a semi truck.

You can read Philip Swarts full article here

Top Photo credit: A B-52 slowly pulls up to the boom of a KC-10 Extender aerial refueling tanker . Inside of 50 feet, the receiver aircraft is closing the distance at a speed of only about a foot per second. (Photo: Alan Lessig, Air Force Times)