Monday, March 23, 2009


Capt. Matthew Jaeger, Senior Airman Mckayla Dick, and 1st Lt. Vance Feavel stand before the KC-135 Stratotanker that they safely landed using GPS when the navigation system failed during a refueling sortie from Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, March 16.

From the AFA's Daily Report... a story of a resourceful USAF tanker crew who averted disaster:
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)
OK... is it just me? That KC-135 was being flown by children!! You know I jest, of course. But still...


  1. Bec said:

    Great story! I've sent it off to my folks - with a copy for Jesse to see.

    Their ages are astonishing, until we remember that it's always been like this in war. The military has a tremendous amount of faith, trust and optimism in our young people, thank God. They know what works.

  2. That is a great story and proof that there is intelligence out there.

  3. ""level of maturity and quick thinking" in a situation that Rhatigan hasn't seen in 18 years of flying"

    To be fair to predecessors, for how many of those 18 years was handheld GPS actually available? :-)

  4. Pretty darn clever children! What a magnificent team and an uplifting story.

  5. Bec sez: Their ages are astonishing, until we remember that it's always been like this in war.

    True... and in the peacetime military, as well. Our young officers almost always have more people and larger budgets under their direct control than their civilian peers will EVER see before age 40. The same thing is true to a lesser extent with our NCOs, too. The military has always been extremely good about responsibility and accountability; it's one of the things that appealed to me most about a military career. ::kicks soap-box aside, for now::

    Lou: Very true!!

    Phil: I'd say at least five years if I had to take a wild-assed guess, and more than likely much more. The military always gets the best toys, first.

    Moogie: Agreed!

  6. re GPS - you know the dates, etc. better, but I believe Desert Storm was our benefactor for very accurate GPS and hand-helds for us civilians. I know it was shortly after that my brother and folks shifted from Loran-C to GPS for nautical navigation.

    But, what a great story, especially as I read your most recent post first and kind of depressed myself.

  7. Let us not forget the age of that aircraft they were flying!! More than likely it went into service two and maybe three times their age ago!! What a remarkable thing that the Air Force has been able to keep several aircraft flying so long. The BUFF (B-52) being another example, the C-130's and the C-5 as well.

    BT: Jimmy T sends.

  8. I don't see any whiskers on those toddlers.

  9. Ann: I think you're right about the timing of GPS availability. I was shooting from the hip on that one. I was still living in Detroit when one of my geek friends bought his first GPS unit... a monstrosity by today's standards, as it had to be mounted on a tripod, leveled, yadda, yadda, before it would work. (I left Detroit in '95, btw)

    Jimmy: Your point is WELL taken... I've posted on this subject many times. I have immense respect for maintainers in ALL the services, but most especially the USAF guys, given what they have to work with.

    Bob: Nor did I! :D


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