Operation Copper Arrow: Refueling the mission forward

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John R. Wright
  • 86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs

The first aircrew to support U.S. Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa Operation Copper Arrow 2021 executed refueling capabilities from a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 16.

The aircrew, assigned to the 190th Air Refueling Wing, Kansas Air National Guard, was the first in a rotation of ANG and Air Force Reserve Command tanker crew to participate in the operation to provide increased air refueling capacity to the European theater.

After completing mission briefs and pre-flight checks, the 190th ARW tanker crew departed Ramstein to carry out the refueling of a NATO E-3A Sentry aircraft operating out of NATO Air Base, Geilenkirchen, Germany.

“Tankers are a highly tasked mission,” said Maj. Shay Dickey, 116th Air Refueling Squadron chief of current operations and scheduling and Copper Arrow detachment commander. “A lot of people need the training. They need the air refueling to either extend the mission or for pilot and crew proficiency. We provide that to the theater and give a little relief to the 100th Air Refueling Wing out of (Royal Air Force) Mildenhall. We also help our NATO partners provide refueling training, exercise support and operational support for the theater.”

Operation Copper Arrow, a new air-to-air refueling mission, combines Operation Atlantic Resolve missions from NATO AB, Geilenkirchen, and RAF Mildenhall, England, into a single mission with one staff overseen by USAFE – AFAFRICA Tanker Operations.

Funded by USAFE – AFAFRICA’s Request for Forces (RFF) and European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), the operation brings volunteer ANG and AFRC crews, tanker aircraft, maintainers and support personnel into the U.S. European Command theater.

“From a guard perspective, it’s an opportunity for crews to operate in the European theater for an extended period of time,” Dickey said. “The operating area here is pretty busy, so our younger crews can get some of that experience working in a new region, and it really broadens our horizons for future work in the European theater.”

The operation also includes a small staff of mission planners and a supply and logistics troop to allow independent operations.

“The airspace is very tight, and countries have their own set of rules for flying over,” said Lt. Col. William Silence, 130th Operations Support Squadron officer and 603rd Air Operations Center A34 Copper Arrow project officer. “That’s where the mission planning cell team does a good job of planning ahead and verifying that those routes are good and then requesting the diplomatic clearances in order to get overflight clearance from each country. As good partners, for operating in Europe, we want to make sure we get that permission before we fly over.”

Through Copper Arrow, Ramstein is slated to host tanker aircraft and units from across the spectrum this year, including KC-135s, KC-10 Extender aircraft and the first KC-46 Pegasus aircraft to operate in-theater.

“Because we’re standing up this mission here, it takes a lot of support and a lot of assistance, and we just want to thank the 86th Airlift Wing for their support and help,” Dickey said. “We really appreciate their assistance in opening their doors and their home to us.”

Operation Copper Arrow gives USAFE – AFAFRICA, NATO and partner nation units a chance to work with diverse air refueling assets across the total force, increasing competency in a variety of mission sets, while also giving supporting ANG and AFRC units training and exposure to the European theater.

“I appreciate all the crews; the 190th, the 101st (Air Refueling Wing, Maine ANG) that are coming out, and the guard and reserve crews that help get this mission going,” Silence said. “It’s a fun mission, but it’s still time away from their family, time away from home, and they are providing that increased capacity.”