- Finding the Tanker
- Pre & Post Refueling positions/formation
- Pre-Tanker Checks
- Cleared to Contact
Before we start in earnest, the #1 tip you can remember – small inputs!
If you're going to move your throttle, stick or pedals once you are anywhere near the tanker, be gentle. If you feel yourself getting tense, drop back 100 feet, release the death-grip you have on your stick, and shake out the tension for a second. This requires precision flying skills which in turn requires practice practice practice - it's tough, but not impossible. Just focus, and keep your inputs small. A good technique some use is to actually unwrap your fingers from the stick and use only small pushes with the web of the hand, base of the thumb and forefinger to get into position. Whatever works for you!
The F16 does not carry a lot of fuel, so air-to-air refueling is a must in longer sorties; this service is provided by KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft in BMS Falcon 4.33.
First, the pilot needs to find the tanker. There are essentially four ways to find the tanker:
- Contact AWACS for vectors
- Use the FCR to locate potential tanker contacts (assuming you already know roughly where to look)
- Use the tanker’s TACAN channel to provide directions. Note however, that the air-to-air TACAN used by tankers in BMS typically provides only distance information. The one exception to this is the KC-10 which will also provide bearing information.
- Use of marked “tanker tracks” on the HSD. If you or the mission planner marked the tanker positions on the 2D planning screen these steer point lines / boxes will appear on your HSD.
Before refueling the flight will need to establish radio contact with the tanker to ask for fuel. It is critical that ALL ships in a flight be within the 10nm bubble centered on the tanker during communications. Depending on the distance from the tanker, when flight lead makes the initial contact the answer will either be:
- If the flight is farther than 10 Nm the tanker will respond with heading and distance for rejoin.
- If the flight is at or within 10 Nm the flight will be cleared directly to the pre-contact position. At this point the flight is to proceed to the Observation Area on the tanker's left wing -(see picture)
The standard formation for refueling is left echelon where all ships waiting to take fuel are on the left wing of the tanker and each other stacked high (you can tell if you are stacked enough if the you can see the opposite wing of the tanker). When an aircraft is done refueling move to the same position on the right wing of the tanker (now echelon right and again stacked high).
The following steps should be taken prior to reaching the left observation station at the tanker and are typically done more than 3-5nm away from the tanker:
- Master Arm OFF
- External Lights ON
- Radar STANDBY (Done at 1nm - Use the OVRD button on the FCR)
- DED Bingo Page ACTIVE (Optional)
- AR Door OPEN (Note: IRL it is good practice to open the AR door three to five minutes prior refueling to allow the external tanks to depressurize slightly but not too early due to the possibility of creating a trapped fuel situation)
Cleared to Pre-Contact Position
Once the tanker has cleared you to Pre-Contact, acknowledge that call on UHF (or other prebriefed channel) then move to the pre-contact position. This position needs to be held for a few seconds to be recognized by the coded boomer. Basically, the receiver aircraft will be 50 feet below at 30° down from the tanker. The best method to get that position correctly is to put the gun cross on the tip of the boom and fly towards it until the boom is just in front of the cockpit. There is no need to request fuel from the tanker; if you are in the correct position you will be cleared to Contact Position. Be advised, there are absolutely no director lights at this stage. Hold position a few feet level behind the boom.
Cleared to Contact Position
When the boom operator has a good visual with the pilot the tanker will call “call sign, cleared to contact position”. Again, acknowledge the tanker call on UHF (or prebriefed channel) and move to the contact position. The director lights F (Forward) and U (Up) will switch on to give further positional guidance (if the lights go towards F, it means move forward, if they go towards U they mean up, A means aft and D means down). Start to move towards the boom and it will move to left or right to let the pilot get into contact position. The key is to make very small corrections. Make a small adjustment as needed, wait for the reaction, and continue as needed. Do not overreact.
The tanker will call “call sign, cleared to contact position”. Again, acknowledge the tanker call on UHF (or prebriefed channel) and move to the contact position. The director lights F (Forward) and U (Up) will switch on to give further positional guidance (if the lights go towards F, it means move forward, if they go towards U they mean up, A means aft and D means down). Start to move towards the boom and it will move to left or right to let the pilot get into contact position. The key is to make very small corrections. Make a small adjustment as needed, wait for the reaction, and continue as needed. Do not overreact.
On the boom (Contact!)
When all the lights go out don't move, the boom operator is trying to connect! The pilot needs to hold this position for a few seconds. Once contact has been made the director lights will become active again; these will help the pilot to adjust position to stay connected with the boom. In previous versions of Falcon the pilot may remember the boom “snapping” into the correct position no matter what; this is no longer the case with BMS. The boom will remain connected as long as the receiver stays within its manoeuvring envelope. When the boom connects the blue RDY light on the right indexer shuts off and the green AR/NWS light comes on.
While on the boom, the only (UHF) radio calls required by the pilot are:
- “Contact” or “Good flow” to indicate you are on the boom and receiving fuel
- “1000 to go” to indicate you are within 1000 lbs. of your desired fuel capacity
If your desired fuel level is less than fully topped off, press your NWS/Disc button once you have reached the desired quantity. Once disconnected, press Y-3 to notify the tanker you are done and the next aircraft can be cleared into position. The tanker needs to be called with this “done refueling” command to allow the next flight member to be cleared for refuel. It is very important that the cadet press Y-3 IMMEDIATELY after disconnecting (the closer to the boom the better). The only exception to this is if you are the LAST aircraft in your flight; in that case rejoin your flight in the right observation area before calling Y-3. Failure of any pilot to clear the tanker will result in failed tanking operations for other flights!
If the pilot needs to take on additional fuel after requesting a disconnect (NWS button) AND before clearing the tanker with “Y-3”, simply back off a bit and re-request fuel (Y-2). This is the only time you will need to request fuel once the initial refueling request has been made. The boom operator should clear you to the pre-contact position and you can begin the process over again.
The last aircraft in the flight must be sure to press Y-3, preferably once he has rejoined his wingman on the right side. At all times the flight MUST remain within 10nm of the tanker and the last pilot MUST clear the tanker (Y-3) before leaving the 10nm bubble.
Tanker/AAR Comms Overview
- From the left observation position, acknowledge “<Call sign> Cleared to Pre-Contact”
- Once connected and fuel is flowing, call “<Call sign> has good flow”
- Once within 1000 lbs of your desired fuel level, call “<Call sign> 1000 to go”
- Issue a Y-3 command to clear the tanker once you have completed your refueling