Peter Boschert over France with Armée de I’Air


In contrast to the Stratotanker of the USAF, the C-135F were equipped with a hose-drag system on the boom, as the French Air Force used only this system for their air-to-air refueling until 1990.

First flight for the French tankers was from Seattle, WA on 26.11.1963. The last C-135 was delivered to France on 10.10.1964.

[pullquote-right]“Our mission leads us to southern France, first for air-to-air refueling, afterwards a low-level mission above the Mediterranean Sea.”[/pullquote-right]In the beginning, the tankers were dispersed to three Air Bases (Mont-de-Marsan, Istres and Avord)
to support the Force de Frappe, the strategic atomic assets of the French Air Force. Between 1985 and 1988 the tanker were modernized with new engines and the structure of the airframes were strengthen, the aircraft were renamed C-135FR.

In 1993, another modernization process started, this time refueling probes at the end of the wings were attached, enabling the aircraft to refuel two aircraft simultaneously. In 1997, the French Air Force acquired three KC-135As from the USAF, which were stored at AMARG. They were modernized to KC-135R and the only significant difference to the C-135FR is an antenna above the cockpit of the C-135FR. Presently, another upgrade of the aircraft is running, this time adding a  “glass cockpit” which is mainly for the instruments of the engines, which are in the center console.

Nowadays, GRV 02.091 “Bretagne” is responsible for the air refueling and the unit has 30 crews to fulfil its task.

Our tanker mission started in the briefing room in Istres at 10:10 am. A tanker crew in France has got four members, the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and boomer.

Our mission leads us to southern France, first for air-to-air refueling, afterwards a low-level mission above the Mediterranean Sea. For the first part, our callsign was MARC410, for the low-level part it should change to FAF4010.

We will take-off with 45 tons of fuel, 11 tons are for the refueling. Planned were FA-18 of the Swiss Air Force and French Mirage 2000N, 2000C and 2000-5F.

Our take-off time was 13:30, 20 min before that the engines were started, we started taxing on time and after take-off reached our height of 27.000 feet quick. The first “visitors” arrived at 14:00, further were following and the 11 tons of kerosine were given to the fighters. Each jet gets about two minutes time for the refueling. The French C-135 have positions left and right of the boom operator, which is usually used for “students”. The boom can be moved in all directions, it has a maximum lengthof 14.3 Meter, plus the hose on the boom.

When the refueling is done with the wingtip-pods, cameras help the boomer to control the refueling as he can’t watch the refueling from his position. The cameras are near the last windows left and right just behind the wings.

After the refueling was finished, we changed our callsign as briefed and headed towards the coast to train another mission. This was to practice the workout over the sea for a rescue procedure in case of fighter bailing out. It is à way to drop an emergency kit. That system, called “SARMAT” will be dropped at low-level and includes medical aids, lifeboat and special food so they survive the first hours until further help arrives.

As said, the large aircraft goes into low-level, about 300 feet. An air-to-air refueling is always an amazing experience, but this one, flying with this large tanker so low, was class of its own. Here the four crew member are helpful, eight eyes looking around to avoid any problems.


The missions of GRV 00.091 which it participated in the last years:

Chad: Operation Manta, Operation Hawk (1983)

Gabun: Operation Moray (1981/1982),

Lebanon: Operation Chub (1984)

Saudi-Arabia: Operation Brocket (1990/1991)

Turkey: Operation Aconit (1992/96)

Bosnia und Herzegowina: Operation Kestrel, Operation Salamander ( 1993)

Kosovo: Operation Trident (1999)

Afghanistan: Operation Enduring Freedom – Operation Hercules (2001/2002),

Côte d’Ivoire: Operation Unicorn ( 2002)

Democratic Republic of Kongo: (Sommer 2003)

Libya: Operation Harmattan (2011)

Mali: Operation Serval (2013)

I would like to thank the crews from Istres, the commander of the Squadron and my contact in Paris (who I don’t want to be named) for the help and support – I know you sometimes had a hard time with me and my requests. Thank you for all your understanding and patience. From the outside it looks quite easy and relaxed, you only get an impression of the professionalism and skills of the crews, if you’re on board.

Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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