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An aerial refueling boom delivers fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter during an air refueling mission Aug. 30.
An aerial refueling boom delivers fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter during an air refueling mission Aug. 30. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
An aerial refueling boom delivers fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter during an air refueling mission Aug. 30.
An aerial refueling boom delivers fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter during an air refueling mission Aug. 30. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
Master Sgt. Paul Jacobs, a boom operator with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, delivers fuel from the Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter.
Master Sgt. Paul Jacobs, a boom operator with the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, delivers fuel from the Stratotanker to an F-15E Strike Eagle jet fighter. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
After being refueled, the RAF Lakenheath-based jet fighter hovers next to the wing of the Stratotanker.
After being refueled, the RAF Lakenheath-based jet fighter hovers next to the wing of the Stratotanker. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
A KC-135R Stratotanker from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron is prepped for an air refueling mission.
A KC-135R Stratotanker from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron is prepped for an air refueling mission. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)
Capts. Kevin Dacy, left, and Josh Jensen, both KC-135R pilots from the 351st Air Refueling Wing, prepare for their Aug. 30 mission.
Capts. Kevin Dacy, left, and Josh Jensen, both KC-135R pilots from the 351st Air Refueling Wing, prepare for their Aug. 30 mission. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL — Passing gas is an area of expertise that 41-year-old Master Sgt. Mike Conner has mastered for 21 years.

The 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator is responsible for delivering thousands of gallons of fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker to other aircraft in midair via a 30-foot-long boom.

Last week, Conner and others celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the durable KC-135 refueling tanker, which has become a trademark for the 100th Air Refueling Wing on this base since 1992.

Each year, the tanker assists the refueling wing in offloading about 11 million gallons of fuel to receiver aircraft in support of the U.S. and NATO militaries.

“The KC-135 is a lynchpin in our operations,” the St. Louis native said. “It’s an amazing feat. And it’s a tribute to our maintainers.”

One of those maintainers is Tech. Sgt. Christopher Goen, who is a KC-135 crew chief in the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He attributes the success of the tanker to the aircraft itself.

“They’re a pretty resilient aircraft and easy to work on,” Goen said.

Like Conner, Goen is a KC-135 Stratotanker old-timer. Throughout his Air Force career, Goen claims to have seen all of the tanker’s models and modifications since 1985.

“I’ve seen everything from the A model — the old steam jet — to the newer models,” the Effingham, Ill., native said.

Airman 1st Class Matthew Taylor is one of the newest KC-135 maintainers on the block and has learned a lot from veterans like Goen.

“It’s a lot of work. I take it all in stride and I try to do the best I can to keep the aircraft maintained and flying,” said Taylor, who has worked in the maintenance squadron for seven months.

The 22-year-old from Ann Arbor, Mich., admires the tanker’s lengthy status in the Air Force and how it still plays an important role in daily operations.

“It’s twice my age and it probably runs better than I do,” he said.

In 1954 the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 732-plane fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.

The future of the KC-135 Stratotanker is in jeopardy as the Air Force moves toward production of a newer refueling aircraft capable of transporting more personnel and cargo.

During a visit to Mildenhall in July, Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne said that the new refueling tanker would replace the aging Stratotanker fleet.

Requests for proposals for the new tanker should come out as soon as late fall, he said.

Even with a new and improved refueling aircraft roaming the skies, Goen believes that, with the right maintenance, the KC-135 Stratotanker will last another generation.

“They can last for another 40 years,” he said.

KC-135 Stratotanker

Prime contractor: Boeing Co.

Haulage: either 83,000 pounds of cargo, up to 80 passengers or 202,800 pounds of JP-4 jet fuel

Wingspan: 130 feet

Length: 136 feet

Speed: 530 miles per hour at 30,000 feet

Range: 1,500 miles with 150,000 pounds of transfer fuel; ferry mission, up to 11,015 miles

Numbers: Air Mobility Command manages 490 Stratotankers of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 271 of them in support of AMC’s mission.

Source: Information compiled from the Air Force and Global Security Web sites

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