NASCAR drivers experience C-17 gas and go

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- NASCAR drivers Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ross Chastain and Harrison Burton, along with 17 individuals associated with NASCAR, came to Dover AFB, Delaware, Sept. 28, 2017, for a C-17 Globemaster III orientation flight. The flight included air refueling with KC-135T Stratotankers assigned to the 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan.

Approximately five miles north of the base, Dover International Speedway, also known as “The Monster Mile,” was the site of three NASCAR racing events Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 1, that brought the drivers to Dover, and presented them the opportunity to visit the base and fly on a C-17 air refueling training mission.

In the cargo compartment of the Globemaster III, the three drivers who have never flown on a military aircraft, met and spent time conversing with aircrew and Team Dover Airmen learning about their specific job duties and experiences.

“Exposing high visibility people to the mission here at Dover helps our story be told in several settings,” said Dawne Nickerson-Banez, 436th Airlift Wing public affairs community engagement chief. “It's not just a flight with refueling, it is an opportunity for our Airmen to tell their story, describe our capabilities as an Air Force, and to let these folks see a little behind the scenes of what we do. It is a win-win for our guests and our Airmen.”

Sitting on the flight deck during takeoff, Earnhardt was surprised with the acceleration and power of the C-17.

“You think it was going to take a lot longer to get up to speed before they lift and the next thing you know, when they want to lift, they just take off,” said Earnhardt.

The highlight of the orientation flight was experiencing air refueling at 21,000 feet on a track encompassing four states over the Northeast U.S. compared to doing laps and “gas and go’s” around the one-mile oval at DIS, in Dover, Delaware.

Chastain stated, “Two cans of gas (20 gallons) can be emptied into a race car in about 12 seconds during a race.” Maj. Scott Saffran, 3d Airlift Squadron pilot noted that a C-17 can take on 6,000 pounds (882 gallons) of fuel per minute while air refueling.

Pulling up behind each tanker was similar to “drafting” in relationship to closeness and maintaining speed; not quite bumper-to-bumper as both aircraft are going around the AR track at 265 knots while connected to each other by the refueling boom.

“I didn’t think we would be that close,” said Chastain. “It’s a lot like our racing car when you’re tucked up behind somebody, you feel the buffering left to right but on the airplane it was up and down, and left and right.”

The drivers and NASCAR affiliates enjoyed having the ability to walk around the cargo compartment and look out the windows while at cruise altitude.

“It’s a little bit nicer than riding around in a commercial airplane because you can get up and walk around and look at your surroundings,” said Burton. “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

After the three hour and 24 minute flight, the Globemaster III parked on the transient maintenance area of the flight line with engines running and the NASCAR entourage thanked the aircrew as they deplaned.

“It’s just an incredible opportunity to come out to see what the men and women do who serve our country that allows us to do what we do every weekend and race,” said Earnhardt.