MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
Nineteen members of the 931st Air Refueling Wing, the Reserve component at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, participated in Checkered Flag 21-1, a large-scale aerial exercise hosted by the 325th Fighter Wing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The exercise began Nov. 2, and ended Nov. 11.
Checkered Flag is held bi-annually and is typically a multi-component and joint service exercise which enables the pilots and aircrew to learn and grow together. It is the Department of Defense’s largest exercise.
Aircraft in this round of Checkered Flag included all three tanker platforms, including two KC-46A Pegasuses from Team McConnell, and the 157th Air Refueling Wing, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, respectively, two KC-135 Stratotankers from the 128th Air Refueling Wing, Milwaukee Air National Guard, Wisconsin, and a KC-10 from the 349th Air Mobility Wing, from Travis Air Force Base, California. Approximately 69 bombers and fighters form all around the country also participated in the event.
This was the first time the KC-46 was part of the exercise, and the first interaction with the new tanker for the majority of the receiver pilots.
To provide a wide variety of experience and tactics that simulate war-time operations, the 325th FW hosts units from within and outside the Air Force. The pilots and aircrew also have access to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico airspace which is what distinguishes Checkered Flag from other exercises. This spans over 101,000 square miles and a combined 465,000 acres of land from neighboring bases
“The fast pace and high demand of this environment are critical to becoming better war fighters,” said Senior Master Sgt. Bryan Fehrenbach, 924th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator and scheduler. “Being part of this is crucial to our aircrew members learning and implementing all of new capabilities of the KC-46, as well as our maintainers learning deployed-type ops of the new aircraft.”
Capt. Colby Kloepper, 924th ARS pilot and scheduling chief, who also directed the tanker operations for Checkered flag, echoed the importance of the 931st’s involvement with the exercise, and its demand on the pilots and aircrews.
“It’s important to participate in this exercise because it has the fastest pace and highest demand that crews and maintainers can receive outside of being in a deployed location,” said Kloepper. “It enhances combat readiness for all participants, and the lessons learned are invaluable.”
By the end of the exercise, the aircrews flew 29 sorties, offloading 2,268,000 pounds of fuel to 264 receivers in nine days. Kloepper says the 931st plans to participate in the next Checkered Flag exercise, which is scheduled to take place in six months.