Flying Over The Pole Saves Over Four Hours And $54,000
The U.S. Air Force has gone quite literally to the ends of the
earth to support operations in Afghanistan. A KC-135 Stratotanker
flew north until it started flying south June 21 an 22, cutting a
new pathway over the Arctic Circle and the North Pole between
Fairchild Air Force Base, WA, and the Transit Center at Manas,
Kyrgyzstan. It was the first time an Air Force air refueling
tanker has ever flown this route.
Maj. Jeff Schrum
The mission followed another historic flight that took place
June 5 and 6 when a C-5M Super Galaxy traversed the Arctic Circle
to fly the first direct-delivery airlift mission from Dover AFB,
DE, to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
A 2009 U.S.-Russia transit agreement helped make the new Arctic
routes possible, according to U.S. Transportation Command
officials. The KC-135 flight over the North Pole alone saved the
Air Force approximately 4.5 hours and $54,000. "These routes give
us interesting new options and open new corridors," said Maj. Chris
Fuller, a plans chief at the 618th Air and Space Operations Center
at Scott AFB, Ill.
The Fairchild tanker crew flew to Manas, a key air refueling
base for Afghanistan operations, as part of an "iron swap" to
deploy the aircraft and four Airmen here. Air Force aircrews can
use Russian air space for "iron swaps," as well as to transport
passengers and cargo, Major Fuller said.
Typically, KC-135 crews doing tanker swaps from Fairchild fly to
England, stay the night and fly to Kyrgyzstan the next day. By
circumventing England, the KC-135 polar over-flight crew saved two
days of mandatory crew rest, including their anticipated return
from Manas. The two days were added to their deployment time at
Manas, said 1st Lt. Remington Barnes, a 92nd Air Refueling Squadron
pilot from Fairchild AFB. While a few hours and thousands of
dollars may not seem like much, projected savings could be
remarkable, officials said. The Air Force is the DOD's largest fuel
customer, and Air Mobility Command consumes approximately 60
percent of the Air Force's fuel. Fuel savings such as those accrued
by more direct routes "can be used to recapitalize the aging fleet
as well as provide for incentives that support more ideas to
improve fuel efficiency," said Lt. Col. Marc Gildner from the AMC
Fuel Efficiency Office.
With budget constraints, the ability to back incentives that
inspire efficiency is invaluable. As Undersecretary of the Air
Force Erin Conaton said during a 2010 visit to AMC, fuel savings
can help AMC "reinvest those dollars in things that make the
mobility air forces as highly effective as possible."
The Arctic over-flight KC-135 had a combined aircrew of active
duty and Air National Guard Airmen. In addition to Major Schrum and
Lieutenant Barnes, the mission was completed by Lt. Col. Thorne
Tibbitts; Capt. Jared Gude; Staff Sgt. Randy Miller; Staff Sgt.
Jason Tolbert; Senior Airman Justin Holbrook; and Senior Airman
The flight, made possible by close diplomatic cooperation and
months of operational planning, could open doors for future
efficiencies as well as strengthen global partnerships.