Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: As mentionned © sbap 2014

As you probably know, the replacement of the F-16AM and F-16BM of the Belgian Air Force arrived at the table of government negotiations.
Five agencies were contacted to provide proposals and among them Boeing F-18E and F-18F Super Hornet offers. The American firm took the opportunity through the various airshows in Europe to send over twoF” models. The European tour started in Karup (Denmark) and went on to the United Kingdom at Fairford and Farnborough.
Between these events, the two F-18F put their wheels on Florennes airbase from June 30 to July 04 and this as a pre-assessment by Belgian pilots.

The Boeing F-18F Super Hornet at Karup (Jacques Vincent) The US Navy 262 owned by the VF-106 (Jacques Vincent)

Both Super Hornet were supported at all times by a KDC-10 tanker. The best is that the famous tanker is owned by a civilian American based company that launched this original concept a few years ago. This had never been done before.
During the deployment week in Belgium, the KDC-10-40 (N974W) Omega Air Refueling Services (OARS) was based and kept on standby at Melsbroek military airbase. This was the opportunity to have a closer look at this machine and make a little review of this civil operator working on demand for the military authorities.


The origins:


The draft tanker “on demand” was born of the fertile imagination of two Irish natives, Ulick and Desmond McEvaddy brothers.
In the mid-1990's, the brothers recognized an opportunity in the wake of studies performed by the U.S. Navy a decade earlier exploring a Land Based Tanker (LBT) concept. The LBT would have provided the USN with a capability it lacks to this day – “big-wing” organic tanking to support carrier strike groups. The expense of the project and staunch Air Force opposition effectively killed the program.
The McEvaddys’ vision did not require any support from the DoD, the U.S. Air Force, or the government and this was a serious advantage. In the late 1990's, Omega Air, Inc., in conjunction with BAE Systems and TRACOR, at its own expenses, converted a former Pan American Airlines B-707-300 into a K-707. Modified from its inception to perform only probe and drogue refueling, the aircraft employs a unique centerline refueling station located in the aft fuselage with dual redundant hoses.
The world’s first commercial tanker first flew in 1999. In 2000, the aircraft commenced U.S. Navy certification testing at NAS Patuxent River and was certified in 2001 to refuel every type, model, or series of tactical aircraft in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps inventory.
From 2001 until 2006 the Omega tankers flew under USN contract as a sub-contractor to Flight International/L-3Com, which had an existing contract with the Navy flying Learjets. In 2004 Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. (OARS) was created with corporate offices in Alexandria, VA to manage most aspects of the program and to enable future growth in this niche market and in 2007 OARS became the prime contractor on the USN contract. OARS currently lease the tanker aircraft from Omega Air, while Seven Q Seven, another subsidiary of OAI, is responsible for maintaining the aircraft. In 2006, the second Omega K-707 tanker entered service. Originally a Royal Saudi Air Force diplomatic transport, it was converted under the same specifications as the original tanker. To this day, K-707s are the workhorses of Omega, flying the majority of the company missions. In late 2006, Omega began converting a former Japan Air Lines DC-10-40 aircraft to a KDC-10 configuration including two Flight Refueling Limited wing-mounted refueling pods. The aircraft was completed in 2007, debuting at the Farnborough Airshow that summer. Late in 2007, the KDC-10 completed U.S. Navy certification at NAS Patuxent River, and entering service in the spring of 2008. Omega refueling aircraft are based for maintenance at Brunswick Airport.
In 2007 OARS expanded its operations to include the first allied refueling flights by supporting the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) F/A-18 Hornets. In 2008, Omega completed its first global deployment by transporting a squadron of RAAF F/A-18s from RAAF Tindal, Australia, to Eielson AFB, Alaska for a USAF Red Flag exercise and back again. In May 2008 OARS also supported Royal Air Force aircraft using an Omega K-707 and KDC-10 to refuel Tornado GR-4A from New England to Arizona. Canadian Air Force CF-18s have also used Omega during the past joint training.
Over the past twelve years the OARS - Omega Air Team has flown over 4.000 missions and 13.000 hours, while offloading 145 million pounds of fuel and 40.000 plugs, while maintaining an exceptional  97% mission completion rate.
Many of the crew members and employees of OARS have an USAF or US Navy background and the key managers of the company are all former Naval Aviators.
Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. (OARS) is the only company in the world conducting commercial fee-for-service in-flight refueling services.

As of August 2012, Omega Air Refueling operates two KC-707s and one McDonnell Douglas KDC-10.

Omega tanker KDC-10 N974W (Christian De Brabanter) Serial number 46974 (Christian De Brabanter)

Cobham Refueling Pod under the wings (Christian De Brabanter)
The probe and drogue basket (Christian De Brabanter) At Melsbroek military airbase (Christian De Brabanter)

N974W (c/n: 46974):
This Mc Donnell-Douglas DC-10-40 was built in the late 1970’s. This aircraft was delivered to Japan Airlines on April 04, 1979 as JA8538. On September 28, 2005, the plane was written out of Japan Airlines fleet and taken over by Well Fargo Bank Northwest. From than on the plane was registered N974W. Omega Air became the owner on April 14, 2006. The plane is now configured as a tanker with a cabin capacity of 174 passengers mixed with a cargo area. N974W is powered by 3 Pratt & Whitney PW JT9D-59A.

For the Royal Australian Air Force (Courtesy OARS)
Missions for the US Navy with a KC-707  (Courtesy OARS) On duty for the Royal Air Force Tornado (Courtesy OARS)

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