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Aerial refueling tankers focus of Sunday story

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Recently, Eagle photographer Bo Rader and I flew on an aerial refueling tanker for a training mission from McConnell Air Force Base . It  eventually took us to Tinker Air Force Base for a story on the state of the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. More than 1,000 people at Tinker and hundreds in Wichita keep the tankers, which have an average age of 49, flying. A process to replace them has languished for years.

On this particular flight over Kansas skies, a hydraulic fluid leak kept the boom from operating properly.

Boom operator Sgt. Jeff Holloway (he’s the capable one on the left; that’s me on the right) had to retract the boom because of the problem. And that part of the mission had to be scrapped that day. Still, the receiving aircraft was able to practice maneuvering in close enough to take on the fuel.

A series of lights under our aircraft guided them within 50 feet of our plane. In fact, they get so close, you can almost tell the color of the pilots’ eyes in the other plane.

Problems with the tanker fleet are growing. Read about the issue in Sunday’s paper, and be sure to check out the video and photo gallery on www.kansas.com.

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