USAF testing first reverse flow air refueling from C-5M Super Galaxy to KC-10 Extender tanker

On December 12, 2023, a demonstration took place involving a Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy and a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender engaging in reverse flow air refueling training over Northern California and Oregon. This operation was part of a Proof of Concept (PoC) initiative aimed at ensuring readiness in emergency scenarios to prevent the loss of a tanker aircraft. This development was reported by David Cenciotti in The Avionist.

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USAF testing first reverse flow air refueling from C 5M Super Galaxy to KC 10 Extender tanker 1

A Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy approaches the boom of a KC-10 Extender to perform reverse aerial refueling over Northern California and Oregon on Dec. 12, 2023 (Picture source: U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Traci Keller)

During the test, the C-5M transferred 23,500 pounds of fuel to the KC-10 within approximately thirty minutes. It's worth noting that reverse air refueling has been a capability of both KC-10s and KC-135s for decades. However, this particular test marked the first evaluation of the ability to transfer fuel back from the Super Galaxy to the tanker.

Tanker aircraft are highly sought-after assets, serving as force multipliers, and their presence or absence can significantly impact the sustainability of combat missions. "NKAWTG" (No Kidding, Another Way to Get (fuel]) USAF Maj. Justin Wilson, 22nd Airlift Squadron chief of standards and evaluations and C-5M evaluator pilot, stated: "By using a C-5 as a massive floating gas station, it allows more tankers to be positioned for refueling fighter or mobility aircraft, as opposed to using one tanker to refuel another, which would divert a tanker asset from its primary mission. This strategy increases the number of tanker aircraft available in the theater and extends their range and loiter time."

This event marked the C-5M's inaugural use for fuel offloading to a tanker aircraft. The data gathered during this initial sortie will be invaluable for future enhancements aimed at extending a tanker's range and endurance, thereby making it more available to support other assets. Wilson pointed out, "By engaging in reverse air refueling, the aircraft becomes lighter at a faster rate than during normal flight, resulting in different flight characteristics." Tech. Sgt. Robin Ogg, 60th Operations Group C-5M senior evaluator flight engineer, explained, "The most significant differences were in the flight engineer's fuel panel configuration to prepare for fuel transfer instead of receiving it."

It's worth noting that reverse air refueling can be conducted under emergency conditions and with constant monitoring of the aircraft's center of gravity, David Cenciotti recalls. For instance, the KC-135s can perform reverse refueling with various large receivers, including the B-52, B-1, C-141, C-5, EC/RC/KC/WC-135, E-4, and KC-10.

USAF testing first reverse flow air refueling from C 5M Super Galaxy to KC 10 Extender tanker 2 McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender preparing to refuel a Lockheed C-5B Galaxy (Picture source: USAF)