Midair Refueling an F-16 with Wisconsin's National Guard

By: Phil Levin Email
By: Phil Levin Email

These days Wisconsin's National Guard doesn't just protect the state, but deploys for missions all over the world.

We took an inside look inside Wisconsin's 128th Air Refueling Wing. With Air Force and Air National Guard missions always up in the air, they need planes like the 128's dozen KC-135's to refuel them in them middair.

"The plane we're going to be refueling today has a relatively short fuel load, so it's ability to fly very far on one tank of gas is very limited," said Capt. John Capra.

That plane was an F-16 Thunderbird heading from Nevada to a rendevous over the Indiana skies. Fast describes both the F-16's air speed and fuel burn. During the refuel it will take a trensfer of 10,000 lbs. of fuel.

"We're talking on the radio. Before we see them visually we're talking about what altiitude they're at to make sure there's seperation and we're not going to be running into each other," said Pilot and 1st Lt. Lucas Daley.

From a bay in the back of the tanker, a boom operator controls the transfer.

"He is supposed to hold his position and then I maneuver the boom," said Master Sgt. Pete Gauerke. "My right hand is driving the boom left, right, up, down, and my left hand is using the telescope lever to telescope the inner portion of the boom."

It takes tiny adjustments from within the tiny operator bay. On flights overseas, the operator can be in the cramped prone position for half a day.

"The boom pod may not be the most comfortable place, you can get quite cold," said Gauerke. "If you're a bigger guy maybe you don't fit in it length-wise. I kind of spill out a little bit cause I have long legs."

Overseas they're not just refueling fighters, but nearly everything the country flies in the skies.

"It's especially important when you have a heavy aircraft that's loaded with munitions that might be at its maximum takeoff weight," said Capra. "With just munitions that plane can take off with just a little bit of fuel, hook up to a 135 and get gas, and then press on and do its mission."

When they aren't waiting for our camera, the refuel only takes a couple minutes.

"I don't want to say that it's an easy task because it's not an easy task," said Capra. "They really make it look like it's an effortless task."

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