Aerial Refueling the E-4B

Refueling any plane in flight is a tricky dance as you can see from the video above.

During U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s trip across the Pacific last week, we needed to refuel a total of five times, once on the way to Hawaii, another on the way to Singapore and three time between Afghanistan and the United States.

The video above is from the last refueling on the 15-and-a-half-hour flight from Kabul to Andrews.

Three KC-135s from from the 100th Air Refueling Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall in England, filled up our gas tank just off the coast of the United Kingdom.

I’ve seen aerial refuelings in the past, but never from this perspective. Usually I’m laying on my stomach in the back of the tanker with the boom operator.

The E-4B, a heavily modified Boeing 747-200 jetliner which serves as Panetta’s ride, has its refueling receptacle on its nose, meaning you get the full view of the tanker boom floating its way into the plane.

The receptacle  on most aircraft, large and small, is above or to the side of the cockpit.

From the passenger cabin, the refueling maneuver is far less sexy, especially since the E-4B has no windows. On top of that, the wake of the tanker could make the experience quite unpleasant (some advice, don’t eat before the refueling).

Surprisingly it’s much smoother when getting gas from the larger KC-10 Extender compared with the smaller KC-135 Stratotanker.

Toward the end of the clip, you can see what happens if the the connection between the boom and the receptacle springs a leak.


Marcus Weisgerber
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Marcus Weisgerber

Senior Pentagon Correspondent at Defense News
I write about broad-ranging policy, acquisition and budget issues affecting the US military.
Marcus Weisgerber
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