By Henry Cuningham
I think I saw the future of the Air Force a few weeks ago in the cockpit of a tanker jet.
The command pilot in the left seat and the boom operator in the back belonged to the Air Force Reserve. The co-pilot in the right seat was on active duty.
It didn't seem to make any difference whether the crew were active or Reserve, male or female. (Two of the three were female. And, oh, by the way, the female reservist "boom" had flown on the first night of the Libya operation.)
In recent years, the Air Force has increasingly paired active and Reserve units with a single set of airplanes. The "up" side is that you don't have to have two sets of airplanes. The "down" side is the airplanes wear out faster.
The Air Force Reserve seems to be becoming a bigger player in North Carolina's military scene.
At Fort Bragg's Pope Field, the Air Force Reserve owns the C-130H cargo airplanes, and active-duty crews use the Reserve airplanes. Pope has two C-130s overseas at any given time. Every four months they bring the aircraft back to swap crews and aircraft. The Reserve C-130s are flown by and deployed with a blended crew of both Reserve and active-duty crew members.
The Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard own more than three-fourths of the Air Force's C-130H Hercules cargo airplanes, which can land on dirt strips and battlefield runways.
As of October, the Air Force had 268 C-130H cargo airplanes. Of those, 61 were owned by the active-duty units, 122 were owned by the Air National Guard and 85 were owned by the Air Force Reserve.
"We as the Air Force Reserve supply the tactical lift with our C-130s that our sister services will need," Lt. Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., the chief of the Air Force Reserve, told me recently. "I think the future is very, very bright."
Stenner says reservists offer an attractive option as the Air Force looks for ways to economize with budgets getting tighter.
The KC-135 Stratotanker on which I was flying was based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base at Goldsboro. The Air Force Reserve's 916th Air Refueling Wing flies the tanker in air-to-air refueling missions.
Seymour Johnson also is the home of the 4th Fighter Wing, which flies the F-15E Strike Eagle and provides logistical support to the Reserve wing.
Cooperation between active and Reserve units is a key criteria as the Air Force looks at future locations for the KC-46 tanker that will replace the 50-year-old KC-135.
Henry Cuningham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3585.