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Maryland Student Pilot Reaches Course Milestone: Airborne Refueling

1st Lt. Dan Griffin, a pilot assigned to the 358th Fighter Squadron, readies his A-10C beneath the boom of a KC-135 to receive 2,000 pounds of fuel during an aerial refueling mission in the Tombstone Military Operating Area in Southern Arizona April 27. Lieutenant Griffin is a student in the A-10C Pilot Initial Qualification course and was one of six pilots from his squadron to refuel for the first time.  Upon completion of the course in August he will become a fully qualified A-10C attack pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

1st Lt. Dan Griffin, a Maryland Air National Guard student pilot enrolled in the A-10C Pilot Initial Qualification course at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., readies his A-10C beneath the boom of a KC-135 to receive 2,000 pounds of fuel during an aerial refueling mission in the Tombstone Military Operating Area in Southern Arizona April 27. Upon completion of the course in August he will return to Maryland as a fully qualified A-10C attack pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Nearly 18,000 feet above Southern Arizona's desert landscape, students in the A-10C Pilot Initial Qualification course here completed their first air-to-air refueling mission during the week of April 26.

Twelve pilots from the 358th Fighter Squadron and 13 from the 357th Fighter Squadron are enrolled in the six-and-a-half month course. The 357th and 358th are both formal training units.

Upon graduation in August, they will be fully trained A-10C pilots skilled in instrument flying, basic fighter maneuvers, basic surface attack tactics, and close air support.

One of the tasks required for graduation is air-to-air refueling.

For 1st Lt. Daniel Griffin, a student pilot with the 358th Fighter Squadron who will be assigned to the Maryland Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Squadron following graduation, refueling for the first time was one of the things he looked forward to during the program. Prior to the flight, he practiced in a simulator, studied pictures showing what refueling should look like, and learned all he could from the experienced pilots in his squadron, to include his assigned instructor pilot, Capt. Jason Bartels.

"Prior to my first refueling flight I was very nervous, but we prepared a lot. The thing I was most nervous about was not being able to connect with the tanker and having trouble flying smoothly up to the connection from the astern position," said Lieutenant Griffin, who flew the A-10C for the first time March 24.

To complete the air-to-air refueling mission, the students, along with their instructor pilots, launched from Davis-Monthan's runway and flew to the Tombstone Military Operating Area in Southern Arizona where they linked up with a KC-135 Stratotanker. The tanker and its crew were from the Kansas Air National Guard's 117th Air Refueling Squadron based out of Forbes Field, Kan.

Refueling is essential to the A-10's wartime mission. It is a force enabler, which allows the "mighty Hog" to stay aloft in an over-watch position almost indefinitely, protecting U.S. and Coalition service members.

Upon graduation, the pilots will be ready to support the wartime mission, which can require multiple refuelings over the course of an eight-hour mission.

To demonstrate proficiency, students needed to successfully hook-up and take on fuel from the boom for approximately two minutes. They repeated this process twice, receiving a total of 2,000 pounds of gas.

While airborne, the A-10s connected to the KC-135 via a boom and receptacle system. This system uses a rigid, telescoping tube that an in-flight refueling specialist, also known as the boom operator, inserts into a receptacle on the topside of the A-10's nose.

If all of this sounds challenging, it is.

"It would be equivalent to you driving down the road, next to another car, both windows rolled down. The person in the passing lane is staring at that (other) car without looking down the highway and maintaining his lane -- and then passing objects between the two cars while you're traveling down the road at 70 mph," said Capt. Jason Bartels, 358th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot and Lieutenant Griffin's assigned IP.

While approaching the boom, the students used visual references to position their aircraft and they also received guidance from both the boom operator and instructor pilot via radio.

"When I was under the boom it was really exciting. I talked myself through the process and at the same time my instructor was talking me through it," said Lieutenant Griffin, who refueled on April 27. "When I finally connected it was a lot easier than I thought it would be because once the boom connects it kind of holds on to the A-10 a little bit. You can gauge where you are, not only by the boom operator telling you some directions to go, but there are colors on the boom that tell you how far you are out and on the belly of the tanker there are some indicator lights."

Between now and graduation the students will fire the A-10's 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun, air-to-air refuel at night, and work with joint terminal attack controllers during a simulated combat situation.