Flying High by guest creator, Jack LaFountain

Hello. Rick stepped out for a moment and while he’s gone, I’m hijacking his blog. Unfortunately, I know nothing about the types of machinery he discusses here—I do know a thing or two about vintage aircraft.

Well, they are vintage now. They were just elderly when I crawled around beneath, atop, and inside them. I’ve found there’s no better shelter from the rain on the flight line than a big plane’s wheel well.

In 1974-5, I was stationed in the Philippines, where I was assigned to the ground crews working on C-141 and C-5 transport as part of the Military Airlift Command (MAC). Our job was ferrying cargo in and out of Southeast Asia. We had just completed Operation Babylift, and the evacuation of Saigon and I was returning stateside.

I was being assigned to SAC (Strategic Air Command), not to the B-52s that I trained on but to a squadron flying the Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker, the Air Force’s first jet powered refueling tanker—the command’s flying gas station. It was equipped with four Pratt and Whitney J57 turbojets that used water injection for take-off. Besides the usual fuel tanks in the wings, this plane carried a belly full of jet fuel.

On the underside of the body just below the tail was the “boom pod”, a small bubble at the base of a winged refueling boom attached below the tail of the aircraft. This boom would be lowered when an aircraft needing fuel approached and was then “flown” into the approaching plane’s refuel port by the boom operator called the Boomer. He had a single “stick” (like you see on helicopters) that allowed him to control the boom and reportedly the ideal job for any man—to lay on his belly and pass gas.

The “Q” designation was given because these models were equipped with two refueling ports, one in each wheel well. One port allowed fueling of tanks within the body of the aircraft, the other the wing tanks so it could carry two different types of fuel. This modification was needed to allow the aircraft to carry out its special mission of refueling the SR-71 Blackbird which burned a unique fuel not burned by any other aircraft as far as I know.

I was given my own plane and crew and the 1958 model tanker I was assigned to was older than all of my assistants and as old as many of the men flying it. Tanker ground crews, back then, flew along with their plane when it left its home base. The old plane, 0084, took me and my crew over the pole, south of the equator, to Europe and to Asia. One day we flew circles around an island just off the Florida Keys before returning home.

On one particular trip home after months in England, we were dragging F-4s back to the States. In a Fighter Drag, our big plane was followed by fighter aircraft whose fuel tanks were not large enough to cross the Atlantic without refueling. Like a swarm of hungry mosquitoes, they followed us along drinking as we went. The pilot stepped out of the cockpit, went into the toilet, came off, got coffee and returned to the cockpit. Nothing unusual until the flight crew broke into laughter.

It seems a fighter jockey impressed them with some rolls and loops and radioed, “Let’s see you do that!” Following the pilot’s visit aft, he radioed back, “I just got up, went to take a pee, got a cup of coffee, and walked back to my seat. Let’s see you do that!”

I watched over the boomer’s shoulder once while refueling the SR71. He said there they are and pointed to a microscopic black spec that I could barely see. I could tell from the sound of our engines; we were going as fast as we could. Seconds later that dot was a big black plane right beneath us. The boomer unlatched the boom, flew it back and forth until it looked like he was going to put it through the SRs windshield. Then with a neat little flip of his wrist it slid miraculously into the receptacle just above the other pilot’s head.

The KC-135s were still flying for Operation Desert Storm. Like most aging machinery, the cost of repairs sent the Air Force looking for a replacement aircraft.

It was great talking to you. It was fun for me because I don’t usually get the chance to talk about aircraft, my blogs are about writing, politics, and Christianity. I’m out of here before Rick gets back. If I don’t get in serious trouble for this one, maybe I’ll try and sneak in again and tell you about another plane.

Editor’s note~ Jack, feel free to share about another airplane anytime you would like. Aircraft can easily be included as on topic ~ Rick

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