By Joe Nelson, The Sun
Posted: 03/30/14, 8:01 PM PDT |

Twenty-six thousand feet above the Pacific coastline, Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Ibarra lays on his stomach in the tail of a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, staring out a window, eyes affixed to an approaching C-17 Globemaster.

Intensely-focused Ibarra maneuvers a flying boom outside the plane with levers and buttons, directing the pilot in the C-17 until the plane is in position. When the moment is right, Ibarra uses his thumb to nudge a telescoping lever, a device resembling a video game joystick, that moves the boom into a receptacle on the roof of the tailing C-17. It locks into place, and just enough fuel is offloaded from the Stratotanker to coat the boom’s seal.

“They call it a token offload,” Ibarra said. “It’s so we can wet down the seal so the seal doesn’t dry out. It’s to protect the boom.”

Alhough Tuesday’s 4-hour round-trip air refueling mission from March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley to San Francisco was just a training mission, it is training missions like this that could become affected as looming budget cuts threaten air crew numbers.

“The air crew ratio is going to be less than it is now, across the board,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Linda Welz.

That, she said, would likely result in fewer missions like the one Tuesday and a higher operations tempo — doing more with less, a pinch felt in all sectors of the national economy.

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