BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Alabama Air National Guard in Birmingham has 90 years of history in the state. It’s 117th Air Refueling Wing is used to perform aerial refueling and airlift missions around the world.
“You think about it. Two airplanes going that fast, that close together. Everything kind of slows down. It does, it makes you nervous,” said MSGT Eric Glidewell, the boom operator on today’s mission.
“The pilots are in charge of take off, landing and most of the time, but during air refueling the boom operator kind of runs the show to keep everything safe, keep everybody on the same page,” he said.
We’re on board a KC-135 Stratotanker built for missions like this one with a payload of fuel for F-16 fighter jets out of the 187th Fighter Wing in Montgomery.
“It’s a basic air refueling mission that we do for training out here to prepare us for when we go overseas,” said MSGT Glidewell.
But just because it’s training doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong.
“Today during air refueling we experienced a minor malfunction,” explained pilot Major Mike Adams. “Nothing dangerous, nothing crazy, but a minor malfunction in the air refueling system. Since this was training, these guys were not in a fuel emergency. They didn’t have to have the gas.”
Experiences like this one can be valuable. Pilot Mike Adams says when they fly every day, dealing with problems problems becomes second nature.
“Working together, working through issues, doing this every day. That just helps make us the best tanker unit in the world,” said Major Adams.
He said the crew he works with is like a second family. And that’s important because they can end up spending a lot of time away from their own families.
“None of us went into this job not knowing that that would happen eventually,” said Adams.
But he says one benefit of the Air National Guard is being able to work and live close to home.
“I grew up honest to goodness right up there watching F-4s take off every day and I can remember thinking ‘That’s cool, I want to do that one day!’”