U.S. Air Force Reserve picks Rifle airport to conduct ground fueling exercises

The Rifle Garfield County Airport.
Post Independent file photo

Rifle Garfield County Airport Director Brian Condie thinks the training all starts with the Lockheed Martin KC-130, multi-mission tactical transport aircraft.

Whatever it is, he does know the activity involves an aircraft’s fuel bladder.

“So the KC-130 will come in, and they’ll push out a huge fuel bladder with a couple thousand gallons in it, I’m guessing, and then they fill up the smaller aircraft from that fuel bladder,” he said. “When the bladder is empty, they’re gonna push it back on the plane, and the plane is gonna go away.”

Then, they will bring in the next one, Condie said.

This activity will be part of a special U.S. Air Force Reserve fuel operation training exercise slated for Sept. 12-15, according to a Garfield County news release. More than 50 military ground crew will flock to the area and take part in the multi-day training.

The Garfield County commissioners recently approved a letter of agreement to greenlight the training exercises. This will involve crews participating in classroom exercises as well as live “hot fueling,” or refueling while the aircraft engine is running, the release states.

Under the agreement, the Air Force Reserve will have exclusive use of the airport’s new concrete ramp and the associated asphalt taxiway. The military exercises, however, will not interfere with regular air traffic and airport operations.

The military exercises also will not affect wildfire suppression activities at the airport, the release states. The Air Force reserve has requested the presence of on-site fire crews.

“They’ve asked the airport fire crews to be on standby when they’re fueling the aircraft with the engines running,” Condie said. “So they are not bringing their own fire equipment.”

In addition to live training exercises, military crews could be involved in a lot of six-hour, classroom-heavy days. This is a big reason why the public will not be invited to view the exercises firsthand.

“The site is going to be secured, and the training is not open to the public, and there will not be any public parking at or near the airport,” the release states.

However, residents of western Garfield County can still catch some of the action in the air.

Military aircraft aren’t an uncommon sight at the Rifle Garfield County Airport. Condie said about every two months or so, aircraft — including helicopters — come out and practice.

But this time around residents in Rifle, Silt and New Castle are going to see a lot of aircraft flying overhead in a short time frame.

“Instead of seeing it once in two months, you’re gonna see it consistent for four days in a row,” Condie said.

The airport will experience an increase in military aircraft traffic, and the Air Force Reserve is conducting more flights than normal for a training exercise happening across the Rocky Mountain region, the release states.

But the Rifle airport will be the main “base” throughout this schedule, Condie said. He thinks the Air Force Reserve will also use airports in Montrose, Eagle and Colorado Springs during the time.

“What it does is it adds to our resume of reasons people come to the Rifle airport; not just for flights but for training,” Condie said. “So, now, this is our fifth training. We had da Vinci helicopters out here from Italy last year, we’ve had Kinetic — the British helicopter. We’ve had Airbus out here doing flight checks and the C-17s and the KC 130s doing flight testing here. … So it’s just one more asset that we become known for.”

“I’m pleased with that,” Condie added. “I’m pleased that our airfield met their requirements.”

Though he’s looking forward to the military exercises come September, Condie said to keep in mind that it is the military — their plans could change at the last second.

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or