The steel gray KC-135 Stratotankers are massive.
The Boeing jets, first deployed way back in 1956, can carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo with the thrust of four turbofan engines.
The plane is also capable of carrying 33,000 gallons of fuel and off-loading it in mid-air.
That’s the primary mission of the Illinois Air National Guard’s 126th Air Refueling Wing, assigned to Scott Air Force Base, near Belleville.
“We can air refuel almost every aircraft in the Air Force, Navy and Marines’ inventory, so we are asked to refuel in a lot of different places, day, night, all around the clock,” said Col. Jeff Jacobson, vice wing commander of the 126th.
The Wing has eight of the KC-135s, as well as one backup aircraft. The planes, with a retractable boom in the back, are able to offload thousands of pounds of fuel in a matter of minutes. In-flight refueling allows U.S. military aircraft and personnel to get anywhere in the world without stopping.
As the 126th Wing’s motto states: “anytime, anywhere.”
There are about 850 members of the Illinois National Guard and 100 active duty members assigned to the 126th. The Wing has two KC-135s and crew deployed in Turkey and the Middle East, while at Scott Air Force Base there are two to three training missions flown daily.
While Scott Air Force Base is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the 126th is marking another milestone. The 108th Squadron, assigned to the 126th Operations Group, will celebrate its 90th anniversary in July.
It was originally organized during World War I as the 108th Aero Squadron. It was reformed in July 1927, as the 108th Observation Squadron, and is one of the 29 original National Guard Observation Squadrons of the United States Army National Guard formed before World War II.
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