Presidential pit stop: Team answers quick call when Air Force One lands
January 14, 2009
The call came down fast Dec. 15 for the airmen of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Fuels Management Flight. POTUS was on his way. And his plane needed gas.
A meeting was held at 10 a.m. to let Master Sgt. David Vanwinkle’s airmen know that President George W. Bush would be touching down soon. By 11:45 a.m., six fuel trucks were ready and waiting, nearly the base’s entire fleet.
In the end, six R-11 fuel trucks pumped 31,000 gallons into Air Force One in just 37 minutes. The 6,000-gallon trucks each normally takes about 20 minutes to offload. Bush even stepped off the plane to say hi to some airmen.
Stripes sat down with Vanwinkle, of Chanute, Kan., to talk about his airmen’s feat.
So, you guys had less than two hours to get set. How does that compare to your normal lead times?
For preparation of that nature, we would usually have at least a day. It caught us completely by surprise. The only way we were able to pull it off was because the presidential aircraft was our first and only priority. If we would have had to take care of other aircraft on the ramp, it would’ve been nearly impossible.
How were you guys able to pull this thing off so fast?
We did a four-truck multisource on the aircraft. The first step was we had all six trucks standing by before the plane even taxied in. The next step was we pulled in four units and positioned them on the aircraft and started pumping simultaneously.
Is offloading so many thousands of gallons of fuel from numerous trucks something you normally do?
It’s an allowed operation and it is an operation that the 747, because of its design, can handle. But it’s not something we do on a daily basis just for safety precautions. Normally, those operations are reserved for large-frame aircraft and in a combat situation at a deployed location where the rapid turnaround of the aircraft is essential.
When working a job like this, was there any nervousness?
Our guys are all professionals. Pumping gas is what they do. They were excited because it was presidential aircraft, obviously, and the adrenaline was flowing ... but they were complete professionals. Working around the Secret Service is always a little nerve-racking. I had to explain to them beforehand, "Once you pull up to the area, do not jump out of the truck, grab the hose and start running for the plane like you usually do. Just stand there and wait for direction." But they were complete professionals, very excited to be out there.
Was it pretty surprising when the president came out?
Very much so. I’m glad he did. That’s a true commander in chief. That gives the ultimate respect to do that, because he didn’t have to. Two of our operators were actually able to meet him and shake his hand.
How are you guys going to top that refueling?
I don’t think I’d want to top that, to tell you the truth. Anything to top that would be completely unsafe (laughing).