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 A 351st ARS/100th ARW KC-135R Stratotanker powers out of RAF MIldenhall

Whether the 100 ARW ever acquire the new tanker is another matter. As the only aerial refuelling unit permanently based in Europe one would expect that it is likely, particularly as no other option exists or is likely to exist in the near future in terms of a replacement for the venerable Stratotanker. But a lot can happen in the next few years before the KC-46 starts to be 'rolled out' across the ARW community and there are no guarantees that a permanent tanker fleet will be assigned in the European theatre by the USAF, it is also conceivable that the 100ARW could be disbanded once again or return Stateside and be replaced by tanker units that rotate to Mildenhall or elsewhere, as has been the case in the past. Only time will tell and we will have to wait and see, but bearing in mind the history of the "Bloody Hundredth" it would be a travesty if it did not remain where it gained its bloody but glorious past.

The single high speed in-flight refuelling boom fitted to the KC-135's centreline is 27ft (8m) long, with an additional 18.5ft (5.6m) which can be extended or retracted by the boom operator and can also be moved between 12.5 and 50 degrees in the vertical and 30 degrees left or right from the centre position. To guide receiver aircraft, the KC-135s are equipped with two rows of lights under the fuselage centreline, along with coloured markings on the boom itself, which indicate whether the receiver needs to move forward or backward and up or down so as to be in the correct postion to receive fuel from the boom. Locking toggles within the receptacle keep the boom engaged with the receiving aircraft, with an auto-disconnect system that will release the boom if the receiver drops outside of the refuelling boom's envelope.

Plugged into the Stratotanker's boom, this Norwegian F-16 pilot waits patiently to have his fuel tanks topped up

Everyones dream is to catch a Northrop-Grumman B-2A Spirit 'Stealth Bomber' on the boom

We had the good fortune to experience such an event over the UK on 11th June 2014

A Boom-Drogue Adaptor (BDA) can also be attached to the end of the fixed boom to allow for aircraft using the hose and drogue method to refuel. The BDA is 9ft (2.74m) of hose attached to the telescoping part of the boom by a swivel coupling; the hose terminating in a non-collapsible drogue basket. The BDA looks somewhat ungainly as it dangles from the end of the boom, but once in flight it becomes another valuable asset in the air-to-air refuelling scenario. The triple hose/drogue method makes it possible for two aircraft to be 'gassed' simultaneously on the two wing-tip drogues, but if the BDA on the rigid boom is in use then the wing-tip pods cannot be used due an inadequate refuelling envelope clearance between the receiver aircraft. The standard KC-135 orbit speed when refuelling is 275 knots indicated air speed (KIAS), or Mach 0.78. The maximum for the high-speed boom between sea level and 29,400ft is 355 to 373 KIAS, with the maximum speed when using the BDA is between 225 to 305 KIAS.

U.S Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle #91-0312 from the 492nd Fighter Squadron moves in towards the high speed boom

During the period January to May 1944 the 100 BG bombed airfields, industrial targets, marshalling yards, and rocket sites in Western Europe and participated in the Allied campaign against German aircraft factories in March 1944 as well as a number of attacks on Berlin. For its March 1944 efforts, the 100 BG received its second DUC of the war. In June 1944 the 100 BG supported the Normandy invasion in France by bombing bridges and gun positions. The next month aircrews bombed enemy positions at St Lo, followed by similar campaigns at Brest in August and September. In October 1944 the 100 BG turned its attacks against enemy and ground defences on the Siegfried Line. After completing its Siegfried Line support, the group took on the task of attacking marshalling yards, occupied villages, and communication targets in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. For its extraordinary efforts in attacking heavily defended German installations in Germany and dropping supplies to the French Forces of the Interior from June through December 1944, the 100 BG received the French 'Croix de Guerre with Palm'. The 100 Bomb Group flew its last combat mission of World War II on 20th April 1945, having flown over 300 combat missions and suffering a staggering 177 aircraft losses.

The mighty Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is most definitely not regular trade for the 100 ARW
But, we were lucky enough to catch a couple on one of our missions with the unit

In 2009 the U.S Air Force selected Rockwell-Collins for the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the C/KC-135 'Block 45' cockpit upgrade programme.

The modernized KC-135 tanker's flight deck was fitted with the latest generation auto-pilot, flight director, radar altimeter and electronic engine instrument display.

The programme was completed in July 2011

A KLu General Dynamics F-16AM drops away from the tanker's boom during Operation Unified Protector in 2011

A Royal Netherlands Air Force (KLu) F-16AM formates behind a 100 ARW Stratotanker

Captured off the east coast of the United Kingdom is a Tyndall-based F-22 Raptor

On 25th June 1943, the 100 BG flew its first combat mission for  the Eighth Air Force against the submarine yards at Bremen, Germany -- the beginning of the Bloody Hundredth's legacy. The group inherited the Bloody Hundredth nickname from other bomb groups due to the amount of aircraft losses it sustained during the campaign. Although the 100 BG's losses were no more than any other units' at the war's end, the group experienced several instances where it lost 12 of 13 and 13 of 15 aircraft. For the next six months, the group focused its bombing attacks against German airfields, industrial targets and naval facilities in France and Germany. Just two months after entering the war, the group received its first Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) after attacking the German aircraft factory at Regensburg on 17th August, resulting in serious disruption to German fighter production.

The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker was designed from the Boeing 367-80 model almost sixty years ago and was first rolled-out of Boeing's Renton plant on 20th July 1956, its first flight being completed on 31st August. Operational service commenced on 30th April 1957 with the 93rd Air Refuelling Squadron at Castle AFB in Merced, California. Designed to meet SAC's requirement for a tanker/transport aircraft, 820 Boeing C-135 variants were built over a ten-year production run, of which 749 KC-135s were built for the US Air Force as A & B models. Today's KC-135R model is a re-engined variant designed to give a much needed power boost, along with increased service life, better performance and fuel economy, together with reduced maintenance costs and compliance with modern day noise restrictions. After assessment of various engines the General Electric/SNECMA CFM-56 was selected and the first KC-135R aircraft was rolled-out at Boeing's Witchita modification facility on 22nd June 1982, with the first unit (384th ARW at McConnell AFB) receiving its aircraft in June 1984. Numerous other modifications took place during the upgrade, including larger stabilisers, revised wing leading edges, wing and fuselage reinforcements, new yaw damper and rudder actuators and strengthened landing gear. Each CFM-56 engine provides an impressive increase in thrust of 22,000lb compared to the A-models original J-57 engines, which produced only 13,750lb each.

You don't get much closer than this Tornado over northern Germany

100th Air Refueling Wing
United States Air Forces Europe
"The Bloody Hundredth"

Another example of cross nation co-operation
United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16E Desert Falcon drops away from the boom of a 100 ARW Stratotanker

'Voodoo Flight' formates alongside a 100 ARW tanker off the coast of Libya during Operation Unified Protector

The 'Boomers' position in the back of a KC-135 is pretty cramped and not a place you would want to spend too long in

F-16s on the other hand are regular customers for the 100 ARW
Having just dropped off the boom, this one is from 331 Sqn of the Royal Norwegian Air Force

We would like to thank everyone at the 100ARW Public Affairs Office, who over a number of years have assisted us with this and other articles.

After completing the transfer of its aircraft in September 1976, the Air Force re-designated the wing as the 100th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) and relocated it to Beale AFB. Whilst at Beale, the 100 ARW assumed responsibility for providing worldwide air refuelling support to the 9 Strategic Reconnaissance Wing with the Boeing KC-135Q, until its inactivation on 15th March 1983. After an inactive status of over seven years it was again reactivated, this time as the 100th Air Division at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, on 1st July 1990. However, as has been the wing's past fate, the Air Force inactivated it once again on 1st August 1991.

Jetwash Aviation Photos has had the pleasure to work with the 100 ARW on many occasions and experienced a number of air to air refuelling missions with the unit whilst it provided much needed gas for United States, NATO and non-NATO partner aircraft. A unit rich in history and one that has a strong link with the United Kingdom, it is a major player in projecting U.S air power in the European and African theatres from its current base at RAF MIldenhall. We look back at its historic past, it's current responsibilities and its future.

The 100ARW also has three pairs of Cobham/Flight Refuelling Ltd, Multi-Point Refuelling System (MPRS) pods (known as "Mippers") to allow for the aerial refuelling of NATO and US Navy/Marines Corps aircraft that use a hose and drogue refuelling method rather than the rigid boom system adopted by the US Air Force. The MPRS pods are attached to each wing-tip of the aircraft, one each side, these having a retractable 74ft (22.5m) hose.

The 100ARW regularly rotate aircraft Stateside for maintenance purposes, with newly arrived replacement

airframes sporting the markings of the previous unit that operated the aircraft.

This 100ARW assigned KC-135 still displays the markings of the 92nd ARW at Fairchild AFB, Washington
Of note are the MPRS pods mounted under the outer wing section

Having mentioned previously that the 100 ARW refuels both U.S and partner-nation aircraft, below are some examples of the aircraft that Jetwash Aviation Photos has photographed whilst having the pleasure of flying with the 100th Air Refueling Wing on a variety of missions. From normal training exercises, support during wartime operations; and providing much needed gas to aircraft transitting to and from the United States, these are by no means an exhaustive list of the aircraft that the 100ARW provides fuel to, more an illustration of how diverse the units operations are.

A pair of 'Grim Reapers' F-15Cs waiting for gas off the port wing

A Boeing B-52H Stratofortress about to hook-up to the refuelling boom

A B-52H glides away from 'Quid 80' after taking on fuel somewhere over the southern United Kingdom

A Lakenheath F-15C Eagle banks away from us after topping up its fuel tanks

Close-ups of the high-speed aerial refuelling boom and one of the four CFM 56-2 turbofan engines

The 100th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) based at RAF Mildenhall, England, conducts air  to air refuelling and combat support missions over an area of more than 20 million square miles that covers both Europe and Africa. The 100th ARW's primary task is to refuel both U.S. and partner-nation aircraft using its fleet of 15 Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft. The 100 ARW is steeped in history and its aircraft all sport the famous 'Box D' tail insignia of the 100th Bombardment Group. It is in fact the only unit in the United States Air Force (USAF) authorized to display its historical World War II tail insignia.

63-8884 turns off the end of the Mildenhall runway after having recovered in quite a strong crosswind on Runway 29

So what does the future hold for the 100 Air Refueling Wing? The first flight of a fully-integrated, military-ready Boeing KC-46A 'Pegasus' tanker aircraft (based on Boeing's 767 commercial airliner) is scheduled for January 2015. The second developmental aircraft is due to roll out of Boeing's Everett factory later this year. The U.S Air Force has plans to acquire 179 KC-46A tankers between 2015 and 2028, current plans calling for a low rate initial production of seven aircraft in 2015, 12 aircraft in 2016 and then 15 per year between 2017 and 2027. Part of the tanker acquisition includes a contract specification for the USAF to acquire 18 KC-46As by 2017. Air Force and Boeing officials have said that the programme is making good progress, with the last of four test planes to be completed this year.

Six months after its inactivation as an Air Division and over 46 years after departing England at the end of World War II, the Air Force reactivated the 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall on 1st February 1992, with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) as its subordinate unit. From the time of its reactivation the 100 ARW has served as the United States Air Forces in Europe's only air refueling wing and despite the age of its aircraft continues to provide sterling service with its fleet of KC-135R Stratotankers.

A 494th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle from nearby RAF Lakenheath is caught on camera over the North Sea

This 100 Air Refueling Wing Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker is seen at RAF Mildenhall on 11th May 2014
Note the ice which forms under the wings at high altitude

After topping up it's tanks this Dutch F-16AM formates off the starboard wing whilst his wingman gets refuelled

A Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16AM formates off the port wing of a 100ARW KC-135R over Norwegian air space

In December 1945, the group returned to the United States, where it inactivated at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, on 21st December 1945, reactivating again on 29th May 1947 at Miami Army Air Field as a reserve unit until it was again inactivated on 27th June 1949. After approximately five years, the 100th was activated as a medium bombardment wing on 1st January 1956 at Portsmouth AFB, New Hampshire, again assigned to the Eighth Air Force as part of Strategic Air Command. For the next ten years the wing performed global strategic bombardment training, and global air refuelling with the Boeing B-47E Stratojet and the Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker.

 Following a non-operational period  between April and June 1966, the unit was  re-designated as the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) and moved to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The wing absorbed the resources of the 4080th Strategic Wing and performed strategic reconnaissance with the Lockheed U-2 and BQM-34 Firebee drone aircraft. In mid-1976 the wing changed missions again when it transferred its drone operations to Tactical Air Command and its U-2s to the 9 SRW at Beale AFB, California.

An aircraft type that needs to use the MPRS or the BDA on the high speed boom is the Tornado of the German Luftwaffe

Being based so close to Mildenhall, the Lakenheath based F-15s are another regular customer for the 100 ARW
This F-15E Strike Eagle takes on gas over the North Sea in ARA-8

Nicely formated alongside a 100ARW tanker is this JBG.33 Tornado of the German Luftwaffe

The normal crew on a KC-135R is made up of the pilot, co-pilot and boom-operator/loadmaster (who also doubles up as a radio operator if required). Each wing houses two primary fuel tanks, plus a reserve tank in each wing and a larger tank housed in the wing centre section. There are also nine fuel cells mounted under the cabin floor. The 'Boomer' operates the system from a pod under the rear fuselage, with access being gained through two openings in the floor at the rear of the fuselage. There are three 'beds' in the compartment, the centre one being used by the Boomer and the outer ones each side of the central one being used by instructors, students, or of course photographers!

History of the 100 Bombardment Group (100 BG);  Established on 1st June 1942, the 100th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was assigned to 3 Bomber Command as a 'paper' unit and remained unmanned until 27th October 1942 when a small number of men transferred from the 29th Bombardment Group to Gowen Field, Idaho, to serve as the initial cadre. Within four days the 100 BG moved to Walla Walla Army Air Base, Washington, where it received its first four aircrews and four Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress aircraft. The unit then moved to Wendover Field, Utah, on 30th November to begin operational training.

The first day of 1943 saw the unit move to Sioux City, Iowa, to assist in air and ground training for other groups bound for overseas deployment. Having received new B-17 aircraft the group departed the United States on 25th May 1943 and into the war in Europe, based at RAF Thorpe Abbots, Norfolk, where they remained throughout World War II.

RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom