ALCOA, Tenn. (WATE) — It wasn’t a bird, nor superman, but you did see military aircraft get pretty low in the Knox County/Blount County area Friday afternoon. That’s because the Tennessee Air National Guard 134th Refueling Wing hosted a training and media day.
Part of their mission for the day: refueling F-16 Fighting Falcon jets mid-air. Those jets and the crew were from the 169th Fighter Wing out of the McEntire Air National Guard Base in South Carolina.
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Before taking off for the day’s mission, the media and crew had a briefing. Command staff and pilots went over the flight course and talked about what aircraft were involved. The 134th Refueling Wing used the KC-135 Stratotanker to fuel the F-16s. The model flown in on Friday was about 70 years old.
Command staff said the tankers held 30,000 gallons of fuel. To picture how much that is, they said the average-sized pool holds about 10,000 gallons of water. The tanker can burn all that in a flight, or give the fuel away to other aircraft.
Staff Sgt. Jacob Whitton, the boom operator, said their job is incredibly important to the nation’s defense. It allows aircraft, such as fighter jets, to complete hours-long missions. Fighter jets need to refuel at least once every hour and a half or two hours.
“It makes it difficult to get them across the ocean unless they have a tanker that they can stay with the whole way to keep refueling them,” Whitton said. He is the guy who navigates the boomer to the jet while in the air. He said their tanker also helps refuel aircrafts larger than than the tanker itself.
“If we have a cargo aircraft with a lot of passengers on board, it’s really heavy, it makes it difficult to take off with a lot of fuel weight, and so they might go with minimal fuel weight, take off, meet up with us, and we can increase the fuel and they can go long stretches,” Whitton said.
They refuel fighter jets at about 20,000 feet in the air and travel about 400 miles per hour. That’s why they need as much training as they can get, so when they have to meet up, the refueling process is seamless.
“We’ll go to them about 10 to 12 times over mission, so being able to be proficient at that and it to go seamlessly is key for us to be able to do our mission, and for them to execute that that support mission for us,” Major Joseph Atherton, the pilot of one of the fighter jets with the 169th Fighter Wing, said.
After the refueling training was finished, the tanker and fighter jets flew over parts of Knox and Blount counties.