Innovative Tanker Crew

A KC-135 tanker crew operating out of Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan, as Shell 73 on an aerial refueling sortie March 16 lost both its flight navigation systems. The three-person aircrew from Fairchild AFB, Wash., found no answers as they went through checklists and had no visual cues because of dense cloud cover below. Aircraft commander Capt. Matthew Jaeger, who knew that Manas was socked in by rain and clouds and that the aircraft was flying high enough to avoid mountains, opted to head south to Afghanistan, where he knew Bagram Air Base was open. He told boom operator SrA. McKayla Dick to get the handheld GPS from the aircraft survival kit. Using it to verify their heading to avoid flying into Chinese or Iranian airspace, the crew flew over Afghanistan, where they could get help from other coalition aircraft. Co-pilot 1st Lt. Vance Feavel said, “For about five minutes it was pretty tense, but once I knew we were on a vector south toward Afghanistan, that’s when it started to calm down.” Jaeger explained that they contacted Kabul air control and were able to rendezvous with a C-17 that diverted from its airdrop mission to lead them through a hole in the clouds for a visual approach through the mountains that surround Bagram. Lt. Col. Patrick Rhatigan, commander of the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, praised Jaeger, a junior aircraft commander, for his “level of maturity and quick thinking” in a situation that Rhatigan hasn’t seen in 18 years of flying. (Manas report by TSgt. Harry Kibbe)