SPOKANE, Wash. - KXLY's Aaron Luna took a flight with team Fairchild as they went on a refueling mission in a KC-135 to get a first hand perspective on some of the intricacies involved in aerial refueling.
It was also a way to experience how members of the Spokane community play a key role in the Air Force's global missions.
On any given day in the Inland Northwest you'll probably see a tanker plane if you just look up.
"A lot of the time it's just training missions," said Staff Sergeant Travis Peirce.
But the view that's become common for so many is anything but for the airman carrying out their missions.
"It literally could be a tanker going anywhere in the world at any given time," said Peirce.
The mission at hand, head to Nevada and deliver 25,000 pounds of fuel to eight thirsty fighter jets.
"If we're just flying from point A to point B and there's nothing going on, you get a lot of thinking time," said Peirce.
But this mission isn't your normal refuel flight because this time it's the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team stopping by to get topped off while heading to an air show in Boise, Idaho.
Picture the KC-135 as a flying gas station. It enables the Air Force to provide what they call rapid global mobility.
"You can get a plane moved all the way across the world in a day. As long as it takes for the flight time. They never have to land," said Peirce.
The KC-135 for this mission was built in 1962, has a range of roughly 11,000 miles and a max ceiling of 50,000 feet.
"I flew a 16 hour flight one time about 6,000 miles," said Pilot David Leibrand.
The fuel gets stored in the belly of the plane and is dispensed out the back through a boom, operated by the boom pilot. In this case staff Sgt. Travis Peirce.
It takes less than a minute to offload 3,000 lbs. of fuel. While working with the demonstration team is unique, the crews at Fairchild are ready for any type of mission.
"I flew over Baghdad on New Years and from that height it just looks like sparkles, the entire city was sparkling," said 1st Lt. and co-pilot Adam Less, describing how the fireworks below looked that day.
"We lead a Navy Strike package into blow up some banks, so that was pretty fun," said Leibrand. Side note, Leirbrand's wife is also a pilot and flew along on that mission.
As always the Thunderbirds made a show of things as they departed, trailing smoke and flying in formation. Then, tanker and crew flew back to Fairchild Air Force base, just another day in the Inland Northwest.
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