Here's how the United States Air Force refuels its Thunderbirds

If you think aviation is a thrill, imagine flying delicate maneuvers in a 320,000 pound refueling aircraft.

Posted: Aug 19, 2019 11:35 PM
Updated: Aug 20, 2019 9:59 AM

PERU, Ind. (WLFI) -- If you think aviation is a thrill, imagine flying delicate maneuvers in a 320,000 pound refueling aircraft.

The pilots of that craft, KC-135,  refuel Air Force Thunderbirds in mid-flight while traveling at 450 mph and  25,000 feet above the ground.

The KC-135 on Grissom Air Reserve Base was built in 1960 and its goal is to transfer fuel to military aircraft all around the country.

On Monday morning the crew on the flight refueled seven F-16's.

"They're all spreading out doing their tactical," said Colonel Larry Shaw.

F-16's flying in formation is a thing of beauty.

"We know exactly what the Thunderbirds want," said Shaw.

It's about saving time, money and resources.

The KC-135 offloads 6,500 pounds of fuel per minute.

"It's all I've known to be Air Force Officer," said Shaw.

Colonel Larry Shaw is the wing commander for the 434th Air Refueling Wing. That means he is the boss and also the pilot.

Air Force runs deep in his family and he's been at this for more than 30 years.

"We take this for granted," said Shaw. "I mean this is our job and this is a very important job."

The crew meets before the flight to prep the plane.

This go-around was from Grissom Air Reserve Base to Iowa to Philadelphia back to the base in a little more than three hours.

"I like watching people that have not seen it before," said the Public Affairs Chief, Doug Hays.

Hays loves to make sure the community can enjoy it too.

"I've never had someone come off and so that was awful," said Shaw. "They all come back excited with big smiles on their face no matter who they are."

From crew in the cockpit to community around the country, It's amazing the see the refueling process.

It happens four to five times per day and the KC-135 can hold more than 180,000 pounds of fuel.

"We love taking community and people up so they can see what the taxpayer money is going for," said Shaw.

The military base is hosting its first air show since 2003. It's free and it's the weekend of September 7th and 8th.

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