An MC-130J Commando II out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, approaches an Omega KDC-10 commercial air-to-air refueler over the Pacific Ocean on March 10, 2024.

An MC-130J Commando II out of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, approaches an Omega KDC-10 commercial air-to-air refueler over the Pacific Ocean on March 10, 2024. (U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force has expanded its reach in the Pacific by refueling an airborne strategic bomber and a special operations aircraft from a commercial tanker for the first time.

The B-52 Stratofortress and MC-130J Commando II were gassed up over the Pacific on March 10 by a KDC-10 tanker from Omega Aerial Refueling Services, the Air Force said in an April 5 news release.

Omega fills a gap between demand for aerial refueling in the Pacific and the Air Force’s ability to meet it, according to the Air Force.

“The Omega commercial refueling platform offers military aircrew operating in the Pacific with another option to train and obtain mission support when tanker demand exceeds existing military capacity,” Lt. Col. Reagan Mullin, 1st Special Operations Squadron director of operations, said in the release.

Last year, Omega refueled Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-22 Raptors, F-35A Lightning IIs, E-3 Sentries and RC-135 Rivet Joints, the Air Force said in November.

“Since November 2023, Omega has refueled U.S. Air Force receiver aircraft in support of missions in the Pacific theater, including transpacific drags, unit level training, currency training, and exercise support,” Omega spokeswoman Libby Vertz told Stars and Stripes by email Tuesday.

The Virginia-based company began aerial refueling of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in the early 2000s, according to its website.

Omega as a Defense Department contractor has flown more than 10,000 refueling missions, passed more than 350 million pounds of fuel to aircraft, completed more than 95,000 aerial contacts and maintained a 95% mission completion rate, Vertz said.

“With commercial air refueling in theater, wings and warfighters saw immediate return on investment, getting training and unique opportunities they otherwise couldn’t get in this [area of responsibility] due to demand signal for tankers outpacing supply,” Col. Jon Baize, chief of contingency operations at Pacific Air Forces, said in the release.

Omega’s KDC-10s can carry about 37,000 gallons of fuel depending on type, density and temperature, plus up to 100,000 pounds of freight or passenger payload, according to the company’s website.

The B-52 has a combat range of about 8,800 nautical miles and the MC-130J has one of about 3,000 nautical miles without aerial refueling, according to the Air Force.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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