Aboard an ANG KC-135 Stratotanker for a refueling mission - FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

Aboard an ANG KC-135 Stratotanker for a refueling mission

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By Alan Longstreet
Fox 2 News Reporter

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WJBK) -- Selfridge is one of the oldest military air fields in the United States.  Recently, I had the opportunity to tag along on a refueling mission that originated from there.

"Today we're flying aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker.  This is one of two aircraft flown by the Air National Guard at Selfridge.  The other one is the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and we will be refueling those in air a little bit later in today's mission," said Technical Sergeant Dan Heaton with the 127th Wing.

"Selfridge has been an airfield for 95 years.  It's one of the oldest airfields in the Air Force.  We think it's one of the best airfields in the Air Force."

Those were reassuring words to hear before take off.  These, however, we're not.

"This aircraft, this one was built in 1960," Heaton said.

"A lot of U.S. Air Force aircraft come from that era.  They're still in operation because we have some of the best aircraft mechanics in the history of the world that work right here at Selfridge."

It sounded like I was in good hands and after a smooth takeoff, it was time for the fun to begin.

"The air refueling mission is like a ballet in the air.  There's a lot of teamwork that is involved.  The pilots of this aircraft, the boom operator, the pilot of the receiving aircraft, they're all in communication," Heaton explained.

With only 30 feet separating the two aircraft, there is not a lot of room for error.

"The A-10s will come up behind us.  We'll put them into position, extend the boom, and as long as they stay where they're supposed to stay, then it'll be real easy," said Master Sergeant John Karns.

And so it went off without a hitch.  While this mission was for training purposes, these guys are in constant demand.

"This aircraft is continually in use by the Air Force supporting Air Force operations, Allied operations.  Refuelers from Selfridge have been in operation earlier this year -- the Central Command area, which supports operations in Afghanistan, we've been in Germany, we've been in the Estonia, we've been in Guam," said Heaton.

They travel around the world, but many of them live in metro Detroit.

"All the people that work here at Selfridge, they're members of the Michigan Air National Guard, so that means that they are literally your friends and neighbors that come out here, put the uniform on, serve country and state, and we also like to think we serve the community," Heaton told me.

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