Raptors and Eagles Chase Stratotanker, They’re Cold and Hungry for Fuel

KC-135 Stratotanker feeding Raptors and Eagles 9 photos
Photo: USAF/Master Sgt. Charles Vaughn
KC-135 Stratotanker on the tarmac in Japan18 KC-135 Stratotankers at Fairchild Air Force Base in WashingtonKC-135 StratotankerKC-135 StratotankerKC-135 StratotankerKC-135 StratotankerKC-135 StratotankerKC-135 Stratotanker
Back in the days of the Second World War, when airplanes really got to be used on a massive scale, seeing any number of them in the air at the same time meant only one thing: an attack was coming. But the war ended, years have passed, and we advanced our ways so that now a congregation of planes in the same patch of sky can mean something else also.
For a few decades, the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and to a lesser extent others, has discovered that it can keep its planes in the air for longer if fuel is made available right up there, in their natural environment. Hence, aerial tankers were born, and with them the habit of offensive aircraft coming together in one place not to attack, but to feed.

Knowing aerial refueling is spectacular, the USAF wastes no opportunity in capturing stunning images of such operations and making them public. Just as it did with the main photo of this piece, published last week and showing a scene from mid-April.

There are three fighter jets in this image, all chasing from various angles a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 168th Air Refueling Wing. We’ve got two F-22 Raptors deployed with the 3rd Wing, one at the receiving end of the refueling boom and the other flying escort, and an F-15 Eagle flown by the 144th Fighter Wing flanking the tanker on the other side.

All four planes (and others, as more are present off-camera) were at the time conducting an exercise as part of the Alaska Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training. Below the four is the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex in the same state.

Dissimilar aircraft combat training (DACT) has been around since the war in Vietnam, and essentially calls for pilots of very different aircraft (in terms of anything from performance to design) to fly together as a means to prepare themselves to take on equally different adversaries.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows other Stratotankers.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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