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Three generations dedicated to KC-135 mission

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jolene Bottor-Ortiona
  • Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
“Around our house, passing gas is a family tradition,” joked retired Lt. Col. Ronald Brink.

All jokes aside, what Brink said is an accurate statement. A member of the Brink family has been flying KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft almost continuously since 1964. And the baton is about to be passed to the third generation.

Brink fell in love with the idea of flying as a boy. He said the P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter was the prettiest thing he had ever seen, and he dreamed about flying it one day. That particular dream didn’t come true, but Brink joined the Air Force where he completed pilot training and was assigned to fly the KC-97 Stratofreighter tanker aircraft at Schilling Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, in 1961.

In 1964, his entire squadron was sent to Castle AFB, California, to train in the brand-new KC-135A. His active-duty career took the family all over the country until his retirement in 1984.

It was while he was serving at Bunker Hill AFB, now Grissom Air Reserve Base, in Indiana that his son, Randy, fell in love with the idea of flying.

“I knew I wanted to be a pilot when I was little, living at Bunker and listening to the B-58 Hustler and KC-135s flying in,” Randy said. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it (the Air Force flying community).”

Randy, who is now a lieutenant colonel, graduated from the University of Kansas and earned his officer commission through the school’s ROTC program. He went on to complete pilot training and, upon graduation, was selected to fly the KC-135.

His father pinned on his flying wings when Randy graduated pilot training at Vance, AFB, Oklahoma, in 1986.

“He used an old set of his wings, and I still have them framed along with his first set of wings,” Randy said. “Maybe one day we will be adding a third set in there.”

Meanwhile, after his retirement from active duty and while his son was in pilot training, Brink found his way back into the KC-135 cockpit. One day he saw a Stratotanker on a runway with U.S. Navy markings on it and had to know what the airplane was doing for a sister service. He talked his way onto the aircraft and right into a contractor position.

The McDonell Douglas Corp. had a contract with the Navy, which had retrofitted the NKC-135 with electronic countermeasures and radar equipment.

“We would go out and ‘attack’ the fleet. It was great fun,” Brink said.

There was a period of time when father and son were simultaneously flying the KC-135 at the same time for separate services.

Randy left active duty after eight years and joined the Air Force Reserve’s 931st Air Refueling Group at McConnell, AFB, Kansas, when it formed in 1995. He is still a Citizen Airman in the unit, which was re-designated as a wing in March.

Father and son share a love for the KC-135 airframe.

“I love it and have for many years,” Randy said. “Being as old as it is, it doesn’t have the same automation as the newer aircraft, and you have to actually fly this aircraft. You have to feel a part of it, and I enjoy it. I have been doing it a really long time. It feels so comfortable to climb in and take off.”

In addition to enjoying the airframe, Randy also loves the mission.

“The mission is so critical and so central to everything the Air Force does,” he said. “Giving fuel in the middle of a fight is basically the key to our success. Every time I climb in, I realize how amazing it is and how wonderful it is to have the privilege to do this mission.”

Brink feels just as strongly about his long-time association with the Stratotanker.

“When you make your living doing what you dreamed of as a child, you are a success,” he said.

This father/son duo is having an influence on the family’s next generation. Randy’s son, David, 21, an exercise science major in college, is interested in pursuing a career as a boom operator in the same airframe.

“I didn’t want to put pressure on any of my kids,” Randy said. “But he came to me and started asking questions, and he told me he wanted to do it.”

David plans on applying to be a boom operator at the 931st and, if he likes it, will apply for pilot training after graduation.

The commander of the 931st, Col. Mark S. Larson, would be happy to have another Brink under his command.

“The Air Force Reserve is an extended family, and Lieutenant Colonel Brink and his family are some of its best and brightest relatives,” Larson said.

“It’s always been something I wanted to do,” David said. “I have been exploring other opportunities, and nothing else does it. This is it; it’s the dream.”

While he will be a boom operator in the same aircraft his father and grandfather fly, he may never get the chance to fly the KC-135 himself, as the 931st is in the process of converting to the KC-46A Pegasus, the Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft. McConnell will be the first base to get the KC-46, with the first crews beginning training in 2017.

Randy said it will be bittersweet to see the KC-135 go.

“It’s time. The 135 has been at it for a long time,” he said. “Being a ‘tanker toad’ has been an incredible life. It has been a great privilege. Replacing it is necessary. It will have to happen, but seeing it leave McConnell will be a sad day.”