HomeNewsArticle Display

Tankers support President Ford's memorial service

GRAND FORKS AFB, N.D. -- The 319th Air Refueling Wing flew a unique and poignant mission earlier this month through which the Warriors of the North paid their respects to a patriot the best way they knew how: aerial refueling.

The mission flown by the Grand Forks Air Force Base tankers wasn't unique, but the final destination of the receivers was. Three KC-135R Stratotankers met with three more KC-135s from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., to provide aerial refueling for 32 F-15E Strike Eagles, also from Seymour Johnson AFB.

The 38 aircraft were enroute to Grand Rapids, Mich., where 21 Strike Eagles flew the missing man flyover for President Gerald Ford's funeral. The remaining fighters circled the area in case one of the 21 needed to be replaced.

"It's not uncommon for tankers to 'drag' a squadron of fighters long distances," said Capt. Michael Mayo, 911th Air Refueling Squadron. "I haven't done any formations with this many aircraft since Operation Northern Watch."

According to the flight crews, the tankers met up with the fighters over North Carolina. The tankers flew an echelon formation in which each tanker and four fighters flew 500 feet above each other with a mile between them.

"I could look out my right window and see 12 jets," Captain Mayo said.

A mission involving three squadrons of fighters and half a dozen tankers for a State Funeral flyover takes a tremendous amount of coordination.

"While everyone else had Jan. 2 off, we were in a conference call with the fighter pilots coordinating the mission," said 1st Lt. Ryan Armstrong, 912th Air Refueling Squadron. "We were very aware that this mission was for an official State Funeral and the world would be watching. We wanted to make sure all the details were worked out."

Even with the intensive planning, this mission had unique difficulties not encountered in most aerial refueling missions.

"The most difficult part of the mission for me was the radio traffic," said Staff Sgt. Adam Smith, 912 ARS. "I could really only see one aircraft at a time through the boom pod but I was in radio contact with about 15 people on the same frequency."

In addition to the Grand Forks and Seymour Johnson tanker crews, two KC-10 Extenders from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and two more KC-135s from Robbins Air Force Base, Ga., took the fighters home.
"Both active and Reserve aircraft from three major commands worked together to provide one of the Air Force's highest honors to President Ford," said Lieutenant Armstrong. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'll remember for the rest of my life."
Capt. Ryan Miksell, 319th Operations Support Squadron, Lieutenant Armstrong, Staff Sgt. Creston Saul and Airman Smith from the 912 ARS and Captain Mayo flew the lead Grand Forks tanker. The second tanker crew was Staff Sgt. Justin Dixon, 905th Air Refueling Squadron and Maj. Ronald Kalaquin, Capt. Ryan Smith and 1st Lt. Jonathan Holland, all from the 912 ARS. Capt. Justin Pautler, Capt. Erik Redl and Senior Airman Jeremy Welch, all from the 905 ARS, flew the third tanker.