USAF’s heavies train in SouthWest Oklahoma
A quiet corner of Oklahoma has become a center of training excellence for the USAF’s heavy-lift C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135R and KC-46A tanker crews.
Altus Air Force Base is home to the 97th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) and is pretty much a perfect training base. It enjoys an average of 300 days of good flying weather per year, has a lot of open airspace and easily accommodates some of the largest aircraft in the US Air Force inventory.
The station has three resident units: the 58th Airlift Squadron (AS) flying the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, the 54th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) with the KC-135R Stratotanker and the 56th Air Refueling Squadron with the brand-new KC-46A. It is here that students fresh out of basic pilot training learn their trade as (co)-pilots on the Boeing heavies.
Known as the ‘Ratpack’, the 58th AS trains fledgling Globemaster pilots how to master this nimble heavyweight. Although it is a training unit the 58th is still part of the USAF’s C-17 fleet and flies operational missions as and when it is needed.
Responsible for the training of the KC-135 crews. Students spend about five months at Altus before receiving their initial qualification. As the USAF’s formal training unit (FTU), the squadron’s mission takes in active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command(AFRC) crew members, including boom operators.
The 56th Airlift Squadron was the Air Force’s formal school for Lockheed C-5 Galaxy qualification training. The squadron transferred its C-5s in 2007, although it did not inactivate until September 2008. The squadron was reactivated as the 56th Air Refueling Squadron on 1 August 2016 as the training unit for the crews of the new KC-46A. The Squadron received its first Boeing KC-46A Pegasus on 8 February 2019 followed by another two days later.