An F-16 pilot flying over ISIS-held territory in 2015 suffered a malfunction of his fuel system and would have been forced to bail out if it weren't for a KC-135 Stratotanker crew that offered to escort the jet home, the Air Force said in a press release.
The KC-135 was tasked with refueling a flight of A-10s supporting ground pounders when an F-16 came for gas and declared an emergency.
"We were in the area of responsibility and were already mated with some A-10 Thunderbolt IIs that were tasked with observing and providing close-air-support for our allies on the ground," said Capt. Nathanial Beer, 384th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. "The lead F-16 came up first and then had a pressure disconnect after about 500 pounds of fuel. We were expecting to offload about 2,500 pounds."
After the pilot completed his checklist, it became apparent that 80 percent of his fuel supply was trapped in the tanks and couldn't get to the engine. The pilots would have to bail out over ISIS territory or try to make it back to allied airspace.
500 pounds of fuel is very little in an F-16, so the KC-135 flew home with the fighter and topped off its gas every 15 minutes.
"The first thought I had from reading the note from the deployed location was extreme pride for the crew in how they handled the emergency," said Lt. Col. Eric Hallberg, 384th Air Refueling Squadron commander.
"Knowing the risks to their own safety, they put the life of the F-16 pilot first and made what could've been an international tragedy, a feel-good news story. I'm sure they think it was not a big deal, however, that's because they never want the glory or fame."
The KC-135 crew returned to their planned operation once the F-16 was safely home and were able to complete all of their scheduled missions despite the detour.