American Air Force KC-135 Operations In Vietnam & South East Asia: Talk By Jack Froelich. SOFFAAM

The in-flight refuelling tankers of the USAF do not have a glamorous profile, but Jack Froelich’s lively delivery and copious illustrations brought these long-lived jets to life. Jack flew the KC135 with the 99th Bomb Wing of Strategic Air Command (SAC). They spent seven days at a time on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) and would take off with the bombers when they exercised. The initial model, entering service in 1957, was the KC-135A, powered by four Pratt and Whitney J57 turbojet engines. You needed a certain fatalism to fly these early models, said Jack, as they were always at maximum weight at take-off and had few of the aids expected by civilian pilots, such as anti-skid, thrust reversers and an autopilot. In particular, the engines used water injection at take-off to increase power. “You were out of luck if the water supply failed at under 1000 feet.” Water injection cooled the burning fuel, so that some remained unburnt, giving the charateristic black smoke trail behind the jet pipes. During their nine year support to operations in Vietnam, the KC-135A tankers few 813,000 refuelling sorties. This compares with the 18,000 sorties flown in the Persian Gulf. The main customer for the KC-135 was the B-52D, recognisable from its black underside. These aircraft had a tail gunner as well as pilot, co-pilot, two navigators and electronic warfare officer (EWO). These crew members all had ejection seats, of which the navigators’ seats ejected downwards. The USAF is unique in using the flying refuelling boom, since all other western air forces use the British-developed “probe and drogue” system. The flying boom is operated by a crew member, who is responsible for guiding it into the refuel receptacle on the receiving aircraft. The boom is maneuvered by two small winglets and also can be extended by up to 15 feet. The high break-out force of the boom was an advantage when refuelling fighter aircraft, such as the Republic Thunderchief, since if the receiving aircraft was damaged and losing fuel, the tanker could “tow” it a long distance home, refuelling it constantly as required. The USAF deployed the Douglas B-66 Destroyer in the Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) role in Vietnam. As this aircraft had been derived from the US Navy’s A3 Skywarrior, it had retained the Navy’s flight refuelling probe arrangement. KC-135 tankers had to be equipped with a drogue attachment to the flying boom to refuel these types, which precluded the use of tankers so fitted from refuelling other US fighter types. Another occasional customer for fuel was the high-flying SR-71, based in Okinawa. Jack showed us a picture of this phenomenal aircraft refuelling from a specialist variant of the tanker, named the KC-135Q. This variant was needed because the SR-71 used JP7, a specially-developed fuel with high flash point and high thermal stability to cope with the SR-71’s Mach 3 cruising speed. A completely different task for the KC-135 was its modification, known as “Luzon”, to the airborne radio relay mission. These aircraft would fly in long (eight-hour) orbits over the Gulf of Tonkin, with the specific task of re-broadcasting signals from US aircrew who had ejected over the sea. This was an invaluable aid for the rescue services, since the range of the aircrew radio beacon was relatively limited. Finally, Jack reminded us of the need for celestial navigation in those days before the satellite-provided Global Positioning System (GPS). Sun and star sights would be taken through a periscope, resulting in such accuracy that Jack was sure he was never more than 100 miles off course. Other aids to navigation were LORAN and Doppler, but these were never popular with navigators. Later models of the KC-135 were equipped with GPS, so that they no longer needed specialist navigators. The Society of Friends of the Fleet Air Arm Museum (SoFFAAM) was formed in 1979. A thriving and active organisation, its object is the education of the public by promotion, support, assistance and improvement of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, situated at RNAS Yeovilton, through the activities of a group of members. It aims to achieve this object by a lively programme of events, including talks and excursions. The society has become an integral part of the museum, and its work and activities greatly assists the ongoing running, and improvements to Europe's largest naval aviation museum. You can find out more about SOFFAAM at their website here; and also their Facebook page here; SOFFAAM is a Registered Charity, No. 280725. PLEASE 'Like', 'Share' & 'Subscribe'. Please check out our ever growing range of merchandise here; You can follow us on Facebook: Instagram: You can support us at Patreon: Thank you for watching.
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