RAF Fairford ACE COOP Exercise

22/03/2024

In a rather unusual turn of events, on March 22nd, an RAF Mildenhall-based Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker filed a flight from Mildenhall to Fairford. The aircraft was to be 58-0100, the boss bird of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing. It arrived at around 07:30, and stated that it would be taking off for a round of circuits at 10:00. Unfortunately, the crew suspected they had hit a bird on take-off from Mildenhall, and did not do any pattern work at Fairford. It did however drop crew off, which suggested that this could become a deployment of Mildenhall assets to Fairford. The USAF refers to these as ACE Exercise, with ACE meaning Agile Combat Employment. To my understanding, it is to prove that they can relocate to and operate from a different base at a near moment's notice, something they also proved during the ACE Exercises in 2020 & 2021. The aircraft departed back to Mildenhall that afternoon. 

That evening, another aircraft, 63-8878, departed Mildenhall and headed to Air to Air Refuelling Area 8 in the North Sea, where it spent some time working with RAF Lakenheath-based aircraft. 8878 was one of 2 Stratotankers on that mission that evening. Having finished working over the North Sea, one tanker returned to Mildenhall while 8878 joined the Daventry Corridor to Fairford. It arrived not long after 20:15. 

The following day, 8878 planned for a midday departure from Fairford, heading back up the Daventry Corridor before arriving back into Mildenhall. It did just that. Bizarrely, however, it then launched from Mildenhall that evening and returned to Fairford. This continued throughout Wednesday.

On Thursday, a Lockheed Martin MC-130J Commando flew from Mildenhall to Fairford, presumably picking up the crew that 58-0100 had dropped earlier in the week. 63-8878 launched back to Mildenhall and the MC-130 followed, rounding off what was an unusual week at Fairford. Later on that day, QUID44, another KC-135, departed Mildenhall and stated they would be heading to Fairford for a single approach before returning home. 

A social media post shared by the 501st Combat Support Wing stated that this was both an ACE Exercise and a COOP Exercise. COOP is a Continuity of Operations Plan, 'ensuring that operations can seamlessly transition to a different location and resume smoothly within a designated timeframe.' Read the full post here:https://www.facebook.com/share/p/BisJeqf8gZX1oxsD/

Tuesday 22nd March - USAF Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker 63-8878 QUID18 - 351st Air Refuelling Squadron - 100th Air Refuelling Wing - RAF Mildenhall