OMEGA AIR’s Boeing 707 tanker returned to the UK during June, when it participated in Joint Maritime Course ( JMC) 04/2. Its previous visit was some three years ago. In June 2001, Omega had operated from Prestwick International Airport in Ayrshire, Scotland, in support of the US Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8) embarked aboard the USS Enterprise during JMC 01/02 (see Omega Air in the JMC, September 2001, p64-65). Since 2000, Omega has gained a great deal of experience in supporting US Navy and Marine Corps operations as far away from its home base in San Antonio, Texas, as Australia and Japan. In June it returned to Prestwick to support the Enterprise once again, this time fielding Carrier Air Wing 1 (CVW-1).
As part of the ‘Summer Pulse 04’ deployment of seven US carriers (see Summer Pulse 04, August, p13), the USS Enterprise was operating with a reduced air wing, its fighter/attack complement consisting of two squadrons of F/A-18CS (VFA-82 ‘Marauders’ and VFA-86 ‘Sidewinders’). The F-14 Squadron VF-211 ‘Checkmates’ usually embarked with CVW-1, will shortly transition to the F/A-18F Super Hornet: Marine Hornet squadron VMFA-342 was also left ashore.
Other CVW-1 squadrons were VAQ-137 ‘Rooks’ with EA-6B Prowlers, VAW-123 ‘Screwtops’ with E-2C Hawkeyes, VS-32 ‘Maulers’ with S-3B Vikings and HS-11 ‘Dragonslayers’ with HH-60H and SH-60F Seahawks.
This year Omega’s Boeing 707-331B tanker N707AR appeared in a new grey paint scheme. This, according to Omega Operations Officer J R Sanders, is «easier to keep clean and we don’t stand out so much on Air Force bases”. The 707, the world’s first commercially-available aerial refuelling tanker, was flown during the JMC by an ex-US Air Force and current Air National Guard KC-135 crew, assisted by ‘Navy guy’ Sanders and ground engineers from Omega’s Shannon and Dublin bases.
In support of CVW-1 in the JMC, the 707 was flying two missions per day, with a 40-minute turnaround achieved with the help of local Fixed Base Operator (FBO) Greer Aviation. A typical day involved a morning mission of about 2.5 hours and an afternoon mission of up to six hours duration. A typical afternoon mission, such as was flown on June 28, saw N707AR fly to refuelling track Anna in the extreme northwest of Scotland, near Cape Wrath, to refuel 16 Hornets and one Prowler, covering two launch cycles of the USS Enterprise. Some of the same Hornets refuelled on two occasions, the second time armed with live and inert bombs and laser-guided training rounds en route to targets on the Garvie Island or Spadeadam ranges. Total fuel offload this day to 17 receivers was 65,500lb (29,710kg) and mission duration just under six hours.
At the conclusion of the JMC, Omega was able to further assist the Enterprise Strike Group by helping some crewmen given emergency leave to get back to the USA much faster than would otherwise have been possible.
Omega Air based in Virginia, USA, is in the process of converting a second 707 to tanker configuration: it is expected to fly later this year. In the meantime, N707AR will briefly return to the UK in support of the two Super Hornets attending Farnborough 2004. Looking towards the future, Omega is to display one of its ex-Japan Air Lines DC-10s at Farnborough as a demonstrator for a future ’DC-10AR’ tanker/transport which is being offered for the RAF’s Future Strategic Air Tanker requirement and to other air forces.