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WIBW flies with the Blue Angels on 190th Air Refueling Wing mission

TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) — The 190th Air Refueling Wing based here in Topeka has a big responsibility — to serve as an airborne gas station for military aircraft.
13 NEWS flew across the country and back on Wednesday on a refueling mission for the Navy Blue Angels.
The KC-135 tanker we flew on is massive and literally built like a tank in the 1950s. It still regularly flies thousands of miles to provide a necessity that civilians may often overlook.
“Our job is to do nothing but to refuel other military aircraft,” Senior Master Sergeant Brian, AKA “Donkey,” said. “It’s probably the best enlisted job in the military.”
We boarded the aircraft at Forbes Field on the media flight to join the Navy Blue Angels in the sky in Louisiana, and refuel them all the way to California where their next air show is.
“They’ll get fuel 3-4 times on the cruise across the country,” Donkey said. He is a Boom Operator, responsible for doing the refueling.
For us media folks, being able to look right outside the window and see the Blue Angels soaring nearby was a once in a lifetime opportunity. But for Donkey and the rest of the crew, it’s business as usual – at 27,000 feet.
We went down in the Boom to watch Donkey in action. It’s a tight squeeze. The Boom Operator lays on his stomach and looks out the back window, giving about 5,000 pounds of gas, or 800 gallons, to each Blue Angels aircraft. He only has about a four-inch leeway to do it, so there is no room for any errors.
“Pretty much a four-inch pipe going into a four-inch hole going 300 miles per hour.” Donkey just smiles because he’s been doing this for years. He says they take it for granted because it’s like second-nature to the Booms, but it “freaks a lot of people out.”
“The Boom Operator is by himself in the back refueling a B-2 bomber, a $2 billion asset. You’re in charge, you’re in control, and it’s in your hands and it’s exciting. Like I said, it’s the best job there is.”
The flight went smoothly, other than a small delay.
Captain Brian said it was a great flight. “A couple hiccups, but that’s normal. It’s what we’re trained for, so we handled it well.”
Wednesday’s trip was “fun,” but the tanker and Donkey have been in some desolate, war-stricken countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to name a few), managing to refuel fighter jets while protecting America’s troops.”
“The fighters are overhead and provide combat air support for the guys on the ground and the tanker is right there to provide gas to keep them over the target and protect our troops,” Donkey said. “The KC-135 is very important strategically in everything the Air Force and Navy do.”
These tankers have played a critical role in countless missions over the years, and are expected to be flying the skies for 30 more.
The 190th Air Refueling Wing has been in Kansas since 1962.