KC-135 completes historic 72-hour endurance mission


By 2nd Lt. Ariana Wilkinson

92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


Two KC-135 Stratotankers simultaneously conducted 72-hour single-aircraft endurance missions, demonstrating multi-day tanker mission generation capabilities, Oct. 4-7. 

For more than 72 hours, the aircraft only landed to refuel, change crews, and service engine oil while keeping at least one engine running. This mission was accomplished with crews from the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, along with mission partners from the 141st ARW, 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base, California, and 134th ARW at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee, continuously operating two participating KC-135s to demonstrate the fleet’s ability to project unrivaled global reach. 

Missions like these are critical to maximizing our capabilities. Joint force lethality in a theater as large as the Indo-Pacific demands a mobility force prepared to execute its mission over large distances and under extended conditions. 

Air Mobility Command is the joint force maneuver,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of AMC at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, Sept. 21. “We are the meaningful maneuver. There is too much water and too much distance for anyone else to do it relevantly, at pace, at speed, at scale. Everyone’s role is critical, but AMC is the maneuver for the joint force. If we don’t have our act together, nobody wins. Nobody is in position. Nobody is lethal. 

“If we can’t get [assets] to where they need to be to do their mission, then we are wasting our time. Rehearse it like it’s going to happen tomorrow and get after it,” Minihan challenged. 

The endurance mission covered more than 36,000 miles and included total force operational support from numerous units across the country. During the mission, the two KC-135s refueled B-2 SpiritsB-52 Stratofortresses, an E-3 Sentry, and an E-6B Mercury. Flight crews interchanged seamlessly over the three-day mission. Each jet had two flying crew chiefs for support and utilized hot-pit crews at Fairchild AFBMcGhee Tyson ANG Base and March ARB
“The execution of this endurance mission is a proof of concept to support Pacific Air Force’s planning efforts and the Air Force’s focus on Persistent Mission Generation,” said Col. Craig Giles, 92nd Maintenance Group commander. “Two aircraft performed a series of engine running crew changes and hot-pit refuels to minimize the amount of time aircraft are on the ground and maximize aircraft reliability by eliminating the need to cycle power, hydraulics, and avionics.” 

Capt. Hunter Striegel, 116th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, flies a KC-135 Stratotanker during a 72-hour endurance mission, Oct. 4, 2022. The 92nd Air Refueling Wing, along with mission partners, continuously operated two participating KC-135s for 72 hours to demonstrate the fleet’s ability to project unrivaled global reach. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 2nd Lt. Ariana E. Wilkinson)

Maintenance technicians executed concurrent engine oil servicing during one of the engine-running crew changes to ensure oil consumption did not limit the amount of time the engines could remain running. This allowed the crews to demonstrate tanker “drop-in” concept with minimum time spent vulnerable on the ground, a strategy that is crucial to survivability in a high-end contested fight. 
During the endurance mission, crews were able to apply multiple key Agile Combat Employment capabilities through hot-pit refueling operations, key servicing, and concurrent servicing, reducing downtime, and increasing our ability to demonstrate unrivaled global reach. 

“This was the first continuously operating 72-hour endurance mission for the KC-135,” said Col. Chad Cisewski, 92nd Operations Group commander. “Part of the ACE concept is that aircraft will continue forward while spending minimal time on the ground. This mission is one example of airmen utilizing ACE concepts the way they could be employed in the Pacific. I’m extremely proud of both our operations and maintenance team for their tireless work on this.” 
As America’s “Super Tanker” wing, Fairchild AFB continues to set new standards for global reach and the enduring tanker force. The previous record for a KC-135 endurance mission was 40 hours. 

Tech Sgt. Grant Gerhart, 116th Air Refueling Squadron in-flight refueling specialists, prepares to fuel a B-2 Spirit assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo, Oct. 4, 2022. The B-2 was one of four aircraft refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker from Fairchild AFB Wash., during a 72-hour endurance mission. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 2nd Lt. Ariana E. Wilkinson)

“I’m continuously impressed by Team Fairchild and our partners,” said Col. Chesley Dycus, 92nd ARW commander. “This took tenacity and exceptional teamwork to accomplish. The lessons learned here, and our readiness will only improve the wing’s ability to support AMC’s ‘crown jewel of mobility exercises’ Mobility Guardian in 2023 and demonstrate our critical capabilities in the Pacific.”