During F-4D “Replacement Unit Training” or “RTU” for short, we had the chance to watch our classmates air refuel from aboard the KC-135 tanker when we weren’t flying; this is Homestead AFB, looking down from above in the tanker.
An F-4D flies formation with the tanker, as I’m looking out the KC-135’s left side window and down the left wing line.
Looking into the direction of the sun didn’t make the best perspective for this two ship of F-4D’s flying formation.
Despite the sun angle, I took my classmate’s pictures during their air refueling training, while on our tanker’s wing.
Here’s a close-up look at the F-4D, airborne on the tanker’s left wing while awaiting their turn to refuel.
I’m looking slightly upwards at this F-4D, as it flys formation slightly higher than the tanker’s left wing line.
I then switched sides, and the tanker’s right wing yielded a much better sun angle for these pictures.
The 309th “Wild Ducks” F-4D Phantom II, makes a nice contrast to the blue sky background – that exactly matches the color of our squadron’s patch.
You can see the 309th “Wild Ducks” patch in blue, on the side of the F-4D in this close-up of the cockpit area.
Here’s an even closer look at the F-4D crew, flying formation on the tanker’s right wing.
The white helmet indicates a student pilot, and the gray or green helmets were worn by the instructors – either an instructor pilot or IWSO
From over the boom operator’s shoulder in the very back of the tanker, an F-4D rides the boom taking on fuel.
The receiver aircraft is “up, close and personal” with the tanker, as if it was a choreographed ballet high in the sky.
It’s difficult enough to learn how to fly two aircraft only feet from each other, and then to air refuel in picture perfect weather…
Night air refueling is much more challenging yet…
Throw in bad weather, turbulence, an in-flight emergency, destination air base runway closure, and/or multiple receivers low on fuel…and you get some real excitement in the air.
Air refueling can be demanding for the even the best tanker and receiver pilots and crews, and yet it is done on an almost routine basis by flight crews around the world every day.
The WSO always watches the boom, and provides a verbal “play-by-play” commentary to the pilot during refueling, so he can focus on maintaining position.
It’s a crew effort in the Phantom to get on and off the boom as efficiently as possible.
As the KC-135 tanker flies an oval “racetrack” pattern overhead Homestead AFB, the sun angle constantly changes.
Changing sun angles can play visual tricks on everyone concerned, which constantly changes perspectives between the receiver and the tanker.
The sun can be problematic, especially when going into bright sunlight or deep shadow.
After one Phantom is “topped off,” the next receiver cycles in to takes their turn on the boom.
This is the fighter pilot’s “office,” and I was glad to get these close-ups of a fighter crew at work, and I’ll take you in for a closer look.
This picture shows the reality of a fighter pilot at work; a world where skill, intellect and common sense are necessities – and where humor and fun have their moments as well.
You can see the 309th “Wild Ducks” patch on this pilot’s right shoulder, and by his helmet you can tell that he is an instructor pilot.
This is the closest view that I could bring you into the cockpit, and still have good photo clarity.
This may very well be the best photograph that I’ve ever taken; the F-4D is over the shallow Atlantic and you can see the coral reefs below.
The F-4’s have received their fuel and departed, so the boomer waits for the next formation of receivers to check-in.