Graphics flight

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- A KC-135 stratotanker prepares to refuel an F-15 Eagle over the midwest August 13. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chad Kellum)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- A KC-135 stratotanker prepares to refuel an F-15 Eagle over the midwest August 13. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Chad Kellum)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- My normal job usually consists of long hours in front of a computer drawing up amazing works of art and designing layouts for my customers. The most action I get to see is the laminator pressing some foam-core. So the opportunity of getting to fly on a KC-135 sounded like an awesome idea. So, I geared up and packed for the long flight. 

I arrived at the passenger terminal and was greeted with hellos and handshakes. The crew was just starting their preflight brief, and I got to sit in on it. They went over their flight route and how the mission was planned to go. Most of their talk was in pilot jargon, so I just tried to understand what I could. 

We went out to the flightline and started to load up the plane with our gear. I climbed up the ladder and went to the middle of the plane where I thought I was going to sit. Since the mission had some instructors aboard, I got to sit in the jump seat, which is the seat right behind the pilot and the co-pilot. I had a front row seat for something that few people get a chance to see. 

I saw the two pilots flip switches and turn knobs. We taxied down the runway and lined up for takeoff. The tower gave the go-ahead and the pilots went through their practiced motions. We raced down the runway, the pilot pulled back on the flight controls, and we were airborne. 

The view was absolutely breathtaking. Even though the day was overcast, we plowed through the clouds and emerged on the other side. For some reason, I was humming the Air Force song in my head. It just seemed like the right moment. I could feel how the men and women must feel whenever they take the controls of such a colossal beast and maneuver it was such grace to bravely go off into the wild blue yonder. However cheesy this must sound, I couldn't stop smiling while I was in that seat. 

After we leveled out and the plane was steady, I went into the back and scoped out the boom pod. The view was even more amazing from down there. I was perfectly content to just stare at the beautiful scenery passing below us and look upon all the farms and cities. Then, the second best part of the trip ensued. 

An F-15 shot under us and flew on by. Then, he came back and swooped in from the right, linking up with the boom. It's just a total of nine men 30,000 feet up in the air within 30 feet of one another. It really blew me away at how skilled these aviators really are. The F-15 remained connected to our plane for a couple of minutes then disconnected and dropped back. He flew over to the right side of the refueler and stayed there until the other F-15 did the same. 

The actual refueling didn't take that long, and just like that, we were on our way back to base. I thought we would just land and be able to walk off the plane, but the crew informed us that they were going to practice some flight maneuvers instead. After another three hours of touch and go's, we finally landed and I got off the plane. I started to feel a little nauseous and again was impressed by how these people are able to fly these planes for a living. 

I was glad to be back on the ground. The experience was truly an awesome thing to witness and I got to see how the other side of the Air Force works.