Flying Officer Frances Phelan is making essential connections for RAAF, most recently during Exercise Vigilant Defense in Korea.
CAPTION: Flying Officer Frances Phelan, an air mobility officer with 33 Squadron, conducts air-to-air refuelling during Exercise Vigilant Defense. Story and photo by Flight Lieutenant Steffi Blavius.
Originally from Rockhampton, she’s now serving as an air mobility officer on KC-30As.
Her unique role involves connecting with other aircraft mid-flight, transferring fuel from the massive KC-30A, and allowing ‘receiver’ aircraft to remain airborne longer.
Held from October 27 to November 3, Exercise Vigilant Defense had Flying Officer Phelan refuelling an array of strike and fighter aircraft.
She was drawn to a career in the Air Force after being inspired by Defence’s commitment to domestic and overseas operations.
After more research and testing, she was offered a mission aircrew role and joined Air Force in 2021.
She graduated from Officers’ Training School and then posted to RAAF Base Townsville before completing Air Mission Training School in 2022.
“During mission training I would struggle to back myself and my decisions, but I have worked hard to build my confidence. I now know I am well-equipped to complete missions efficiently and effectively,” Flying Officer Phelan said.
On completing the training, Flying Officer Phelan streamed into the air mobility officer role and in October last year posted to 33 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley.
33 Squadron operates a fleet of seven KC-30As, with each aircraft constructed as an Airbus A330 airliner before undergoing significant conversion to the refuelling role.
From Flying Officer Phelan’s console in the KC-30A’s cockpit, she controls a 17-metre extendable refuelling boom under the aircraft’s tail that ‘plugs’ into a receptacle on the receiver aircraft.
Alternatively, she can manage two refuelling pods mounted beneath each wing, which unreel a hose-and-drogue that is ‘plugged’ by a receiver aircraft.
Each KC-30A carries a fuel load of more than 100 tonnes in the skies, effectively making it a flying service station for smaller aircraft.
RAAF KC-30As are in high demand, and in little more than a year they have taken Flying Officer Phelan to multiple exercises and operations both within Australia and overseas.
“I hadn’t considered air mobility officer as an option, but now that I’m here I fully believe I’ve landed where my skills are best placed – I couldn’t be in a better job,” she said.
“I love that 33 Squadron works with many different aircraft and flying squadrons, and that we get to participate in exercises which allow us to work with our international partners and travel the world while doing so.”
Exercises like Vigilant Defense build familiarity and cooperation between participants – in this case, the United States, Korea and Australia.
“As I only received my wings in June, Exercise Vigilant Defense is giving me valuable large-force exercise experience, not only with air-to-air refuelling, but also the planning and execution involved,” Flying Officer Phelan said.