EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
More than 5,000 miles from home, an Israeli Air Force B-707 waits high in the sky over Alaska. This location differs greatly from Israel, from the cold and snow to the huge swathes of uninterrupted wilderness, the two places couldn’t be more different.
In spite of this, the real challenge for the Israeli B-707 was preparing for and accomplishing its mission to provide in-flight refueling to forces during RED FLAG-Alaska 18-1.
Aerial refueling can be a daunting and even dangerous task, with two aircraft flying in close proximity at hundreds of miles per hour while also trying to fly a boom into position to refuel; there is a lot that could go wrong. To accomplish this, it takes an extreme amount of trust between the pilots and aircrews who don’t even know each other.
Though new to U.S. Air Force refueling procedures, the Israeli flight crews overcame all obstacles.
“[For the first time] the Israeli Air Force tankers were certified to fuel U.S. Air Force F-15s and F-16s and we were able to incorporate them in voles [missions] throughout the exercise,” said Capt. Loren Keisling, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron chief of battle management.
Not only was this the first time an Israeli B-707 tanker has been certified to refuel a U.S. fighter, but it’s the first time Israel has participated in RF-A, an exercise which aims to increase interoperability between the U.S. and partner nations.
“Practicing in a different area with different partners enriches our knowledge and improves our professional abilities,” said Chief Warrant Officer Haim Baruch, an Israeli Air Force maintainer. “In addition, the exercise strengthens the connections between the countries, from the strategic level to the diplomatic level.”
The Israeli participation in RF-A allowed pilots to train in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which is more than seven times the size of Israel.
“The training area in Alaska is vast and it gives us the opportunity to do our missions better than we can in [Israel’s narrow airspace],” said Maj. B, an Israeli Air Force B-707 pilot.
For pilots from the U.S. and Israeli air forces it can be challenging to communicate and learn each other’s procedures during in-flight refueling and conduct them without fail, but both forces overcame such challenges and learned valuable lessons.
“Flying with all the participating units was great, especially the tanker and fighter squadrons who are part of an Air Force where one of its greatest specialties is aerial refueling and taking aircraft [long distances],” said B.
To accomplish this goal it took true dedication from the Israeli Soldiers, who had to adjust to operate in Alaska’s unique and vastly different climate.
“The Israeli weather and topography is definitely different from Alaska,” said Baruch. “The low temperatures posed new challenges that we had to deal with, both in terms of [our people] and the behavior of the B-707 in that environment.”
Throughout the exercise both sides learned invaluable lessons from one another and built upon the existing relationship between the U.S. and Israel.