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Below Bingo: KC-135 remains in fight

A KC-135 Stratotanker receives fuel from another KC-135, above the ocean, Feb. 25, 2016. The Stratotanker is the backbone of aerial refueling and allows for rapid global mobilization. (Courtesy Photo)

A KC-135 Stratotanker receives fuel from another KC-135, above the ocean, Feb. 25, 2016. The Stratotanker is the backbone of aerial refueling and allows for rapid global mobilization. (Courtesy Photo)

A KC-135 Stratotanker receives fuel from another KC-135, above the ocean, Feb. 25, 2016. The Stratotanker can takeoff with 322,500 pounds of fuel and can offload 200,000 pounds. (Courtesy Photo)

A KC-135 Stratotanker receives fuel from another KC-135, above the ocean, Feb. 25, 2016. The Stratotanker is the backbone of aerial refueling and allows for rapid global mobilization. (Courtesy Photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Flying through mountains in Afghanistan, a KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew found themselves low on fuel when they were unexpectedly requested to refuel a close air support aircraft sent after a high-level enemy leader on the ground.

Answering the call to refuel the fight, the aircrew gave the aircraft as much fuel as they needed; however, now they could not return to their destination, an instance known as "below bingo."

The mission originally began with refueling two other aircraft, said1st Lt. Steve Hartig, 350th Air Refueling Squadron pilot.

Often times, a tanker is the aircraft offloading fuel; however, certain missions require Stratotankers to be refueled. During this mission, the tanker was refueled by other KC-135's three times.

"This was my first deployment as a receiver-qualified pilot," said Capt. Kirk Evans, 384th ARS pilot. "Receiving fuel from a tanker [at a high altitude was pretty challenging]. The air is thinner, and I had less control authority over the aircraft because the engines are less responsive."

After refueling the second aircraft, the original mission was complete. Before heading back to their home station, they were instructed to relocate to potentially refuel another aircraft needing assistance because an alert refueling plane would not make it in time.

The CAS aircraft required assistance from the refuelers. The environment and type of aircraft made for an unorthodox situation.

The two aircraft made contact far below the terrain and descending to compensate for the receiving aircrafts slower speed.

The mission became increasingly complicated when the receiving crew confirmed they needed 18,000 pounds of fuel and the KC-135 had only 7,000 pounds before going below bingo, said Evans.

Committing to the CAS mission, the refueling crew offloaded the amount of fuel needed for them to ensure they had the means to complete the mission and return safely.

Now, the KC-135's gas tank was 12,000 pounds below bingo. Unable to reach their base, they began contemplating their options. There were two other bases within their reach; however, one had recently been getting attacked more often and the other was currently in the middle of a thunderstorm.

"We were authorized to divert to a closer air base when we were notified there happened to be another tanker on their way that had a little extra gas," said Evans. "We met them and they drug us out of Afghanistan, giving us enough fuel to meet the alert KC-135 halfway, so we didn't need to divert."

With the tanker back at in its deployed location, it ensured that the unique receiving ability could be used for other missions more quickly.

"There were a lot of unknown circumstances, but the experience of the crew made the mission happen," said Senior Airman Katy Johnson, 350th ARS boom operator.

The efforts of the crew enabled two different missions, the second bringing an end to a high-level enemy leader.

"As good as I felt completing the mission and making it home, I always enjoy the next day more," said Hartig. "After the aircrews reported to intelligence, [we saw the effects of the mission]. It is always nice to see what we supported and what they managed to do because of [the support], knowing that those 13 and half hours of chaos and stress paid off."