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Mayor Flies with 128th Air Refueling Wing

Mayor Steve Ponto got a chance to accompany Air National Guardsmen in a flight to refuel two F16 fighter jets. The incredible experience left him with a new appreciation for their work and great photos.

At 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday, September 12th, a member of the Air National Guard picked me up at City Hall for an Orientation Flight with the 128th Air Refueling Wing. The 128th is headquartered on the east side of Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. The purpose of these Orientation Flights is to educate civic leaders and employers about the Wisconsin Air National Guard, and there were about 15 of us from around Wisconsin who received a flight briefing at 8 a.m.

We then boarded a Boeing 707 Stratotanker which was first flown in 1958 but which has been very well-maintained and regularly updated. We took off with 30,000 gallons of fuel to rendezvous with two F16 fighter jets from the Air National Guard base in Duluth, Minn. There were two pilots and two boom operators. The boom operator works in a small area under the tail of the Stratotanker to line up the connection with the jet being refueled.

I was fortunate to be next to the boom operator as the connection was made with the F16. The accompanying photos show the process.

After refueling, the F16s flew next to us for a while so we would have the opportunity to see them up close and take photos. They are beautiful aircraft, and it was a thrill to see them flying close by in almost perfect weather. Again, I have included a number of photographs of the F16s.

On the way back, I was able to sit in the cockpit and wear a headset listening to the conversations between the pilots and the air traffic controllers. We landed back at Mitchell Airport shortly before noon.

I was impressed with the professionalism and expertise of the Air National Guardsmen. The 128th Air Refueling Wing has 373 full-time employees and 804 part-time Guardsmen with an average of 13 years of military service. Part-time Guardsmen have jobs as airline pilots, electricians, HVAC contractors, machinists, mechanics, IT specialists and civil engineers among other professions. For the part-time Guardsmen, it seemed that their Guard experience often made them more valuable to their private full-time employers.

The Orientation Flight which I had certainly was a positive experience. I found the 128th Air Refueling Wing to be a very impressive operation; a real asset to Southeastern Wisconsin; and an important part of our nation’s defenses.

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