Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tinker Air Force Base: Capt. Ryan Burkitt flies refueling tanker

Piloting an airborne neonatal intensive care unit is all in a day's work for Capt. Ryan Burkitt.

Burkitt flies the KC-135R Stratotanker, the versatile and venerable aerial refueling tanker that makes its home at Tinker Air Force Base.

A KC-135 was converted to a clinic for one of Burkitt's missions, flying a mother and small child across the Pacific so the child could get needed medical care in the United States.

"That was a cool moment," Burkitt said.

Burkitt's duties have included several dozen combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, representing America at international air shows, and medevacs such as the flight across the Pacific.

His experience reflects the four-engine KC-135's versatility, primarily as an aerial refueler but adaptable for passengers and cargo.

With his seat in the jet, which marked its 60th anniversary in Air Force service last year, Burkitt serves on a team that exemplifies Tinker's mission — ready when duty calls.

Burkitt, 29, was born in Weatherford and attended Thomas High School, where he was one of 32 students in his graduating class.

He played center and linebacker for the Class A Terriers football team and ran distance events in track.

As student council president his senior year, he pushed for Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which were introduced the next year.

Burkitt spent half-days as a senior taking classes at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. He went on to the University of Oklahoma in Norman, earning a criminal justice degree.

It was at OU, as an undergraduate, that he learned to fly. He found a home, a team and a career when he joined the Air Force Reserve as a sophomore.

After graduation, Burkitt served as a senior airman at Tinker. To become a pilot, he attended officer training school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.

With his commission, 2nd Lt. Burkitt attended pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, followed by training for initial qualification on the KC-135 at Altus Air Force Base.

Burkitt achieved the rank of captain last August. He serves in the Air Force Reserve's 465th Air Refueling Squadron, part of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, both based at Tinker.

Burkitt said he began flying commercial as a youngster, loved "the traveling side of things" and eventually developed an interest in the aircraft he was riding.

So it was natural to study for a private pilot's license while at OU.

Being an Air Force pilot requires a "genuine love of flying" and commitment — to training, to fitness and — relating back to high school sports — to the team.

"It's a grind and a continual learning process," Burkitt said.

Missions may last for hours and extend deep into the night.

A bond forms among the three crew aboard the KC-135 — pilot, co-pilot and refueling boom operator — and, "You've got to be sharp."

"We're all in it together," he said. "You can't have an ego when you're up in the air."

Original article can be found here ➤

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