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An inside look at a KC-135 “flying gas station”

A KC-135 refuels an F-15. Credit: U.S. Air Force

The unsung heroes of flight operations, tankers like this KC-135 keep the strike aircraft in the air and on station.

In-flight refueling operations is another one of those aerial activities that is fascinating to watch. The coordination between two aircraft syncing up while flying at hundreds of mph is the definition of precision.

During current action against ISIS and during both Iraq wars, it’s crucial for ground support aircraft to spend as much time on station as possible. The role of “flying gas stations” helps accomplish that. Attack aircraft are limited only by the amount of ordinance. They can take off with larger payloads and lighter fuel tanks and be replenished while on station.

As the boom operator on the KC-135 Stratotanker in his video says, “Our main job is to extend the capability of the other aircraft.”

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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