ANG Flying High

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Their office is 31,000 feet in the air. Their job a dangerous one, requiring precision and concentration.

Since 1939, the 186th Air Refueling Wing, known as the Magnolia Militia, has been serving the United States faithfully. Newscenter 11 was invited to observe a training mission.

"The unit is made up of men and women from a cross section of the community and our entire area," said commander, Col. Erik Hearon. "They are extremely dedicated to not only doing the job safely but as the nation needs it, protecting our national security."

After the route is mapped out in the standard ground briefing, the crew takes to the skys. The goal: to refuel a B-52 bomber in mid-air somewhere over Texas.

A refueling boom is extended from the rear of the plane. It hooks into a nozzle on the B-52 to tranffer fuel.

"Between us and the receiver, if you add the length up, it's about 30 feet apart from each other while we are doing this," said boom operator Robby Knight. "Flying at 275 knots an hour that's about 300 mph. So you can imagine the precision flying needed."

This precision flying actually started right here in Meridian, when the Key Brothers first developed air-to-air refueling in 1935.

Today the KC 135 tanker is nothing more than a stripped down Boeing 707 that can hold 60,000 pounds of fuel. It has a few first-class seats, plenty of storage, and of course, safety gear.

After almost an hour and half flight, plenty of calculations and good communication, the connection was made on that B-52. Mission complete. A job 2nd Lt. and trainee Brad Anthony says he's glad he chose.

"I love to fly and I love my country so I combined the two and I couldn't be happier," said Anthony.

"The travel is real nice. The scenery is great. Sometimes you get a good gig like Hawaii and sometimes you get the desert," said instructor pilot, Maj. Marcus Lambert.

From World War II to today, air refueling is the unsung hero of so many combats. It's a modern-day marvel, of sorts, in a time that desperately needs it.