For all the discomfort of long-distance military flying, there is this distinct advantage: A flight crew with a keen sense for keeping a plane steady and an enviable ability to smoothly put a gigantic jet onto just about any runway.
RAF Mildenhall, north of London near Cambridge, is an overnight stopping point for the Kyrgyzstan-bound KC-135R, its crew and several other Fairchild airmen reporting for duty at Manas Transit Center. For the flight crew, it's a mandatory resting period before pushing on to Kyrgyzstan.
Highlights from the nine-hour first leg of the journey include a spectacular view from 39,000 feet of the Northern Lights while skirting the southern shores of Greenland over the North Atlantic. But because the plane has so few windows the mesmerisingly green display could only be seen from a side window in the cockpit.
Greeting the Fairchild-based jet at the British airfield were security forces, assalt rifles slung from their shoulders, with a stern prohibition against any photographs on the flightline, and a warning to stay away from any areas designated by red lines. Welcome to England.