MIAMI COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) – In these days of digital dominance, they still do it old school in the 434th Air Refueling Wing based at Grissom Air Reserve Base.
“It’s good, old-fashioned 1950s and ’60s technology. It’s completely operated by cable in there, cable and hydraulics,” said boom operator Staff Sgt. Sean Witter with the 434th Air Refueling Wing.
The wing on Monday took 16 News Now along for the ride on a mission to escort the Air Force Thunderbirds from their last show in South Dakota to their next show in Atlantic City.
Crew members used a 24-foot boom to dispense 40,000 pounds of fuel to seven F-16s as they flew in perfect step with the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“They’ll line up behind the back of the aircraft one by one. They will come in get a sip of fuel from us, go line up off the wing,” said Douglas Hays, public affairs chief for the 434th Air Refueling Wing.
While the refueling looked like some kind of air show stunt, it really amounted to a pit stop without the stop — a fill-up without a touchdown.
“We’re going to be going about 400 miles an hour at 25,000 feet, refueling seven of them,” Lt. Col. Brian Thompson explained.
On Monday, in peacetime, the mission was getting the Thunderbirds where they needed to go. While crew members enjoyed the view, they were mindful of the big picture.
“What we do is we let fighters fight longer. We let bombers go on longer bombing runs and also cargo, they can take off with maximum weight load cargo, minimum fuel capacity. Take off, we pump them up with fuel, they can go on longer missions,” Hays said.
“We’re doing this for proficiencies for wartime, so it extends the power by giving them fuel so they can go farther,” said Col. Larry Shaw, commander of the 434th.
It won’t be long before the Thunderbirds return Monday’s favor by appearing at the first air show to be held at Grissom since 2003.
The Grissom Air and Space Expo will take place Sept. 7 and 8.
The show will also feature the Golden Knights Parachute Team and some vintage aircraft in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“This is a great opportunity for us to recruit. Also to show our neighbors that Grissom is still here, we’re vibrant, and we’re still doing the mission very well,” Shaw said.