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Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

McConnell unit called up

22nd Air Refueling Wing deployed for immediate duty

September 22, 2001

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— The 22nd Air Refueling Wing is deploying from McConnell Air Force Base, but officials are silent about how many and where of the unit's aircraft and airmen are going.

Spokeswoman Lt. Jennifer McDonald said Friday that the unit's deployment order, which came "in the last week," called for an immediate activation.

The active-duty Air Force unit flies KC-135s, jets built between 1958 and 1961 that refuel fighters and bombers in mid-air.

The Pentagon has been sending combat units to the Persian Gulf following last week's terrorist attacks.

Federal officials have said exiled Saudi Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden has been the guest of the Taliban Militia in Afghanistan since 1996.

"I can't disclose locations and numbers for security reasons, obviously," McDonald said. "'Hey, bin Laden, here's where we're going.' That wouldn't be a good idea."

McConnell's 134th Air Control Squadron, a Kansas Air National Guard unit, has also been ordered into active duty, the Pentagon announced Thursday. The 127-member unit typically provides radar images of combat and refueling aircraft to ground operations.

Officials also would not say when or where the 134th was deploying.

While the KC-135s don't conjure the awe of the B1-B bombers or the B-2 stealth bombers, 22nd airmen are proud of their mission. The base motto: "NKAWTG," which stands for "nobody kicks ... without tanker gas."

"Nobody happens until we happen," base commander Col. Ron Ladnier likes to say.

The jets, which carry enough fuel to power the average car for 46 years, cruise at more than 300 mph.

Ladnier allowed Wichita media to tag along on a refueling training mission Thursday.

Capt. Paul McClusky, a KC-135 pilot who wears a lucky shamrock pinned to the ear of his headset, watched a B-2 approach for refueling.

"About 11 o'clock position, 4 miles below, he's rolling out ... sweet," McClusky said, according to The Wichita Eagle. "He's passing under my nose, slightly to the right. I'll correct that."

The stealth bomber passes so close to the tanker it sets off a computerized alert set to detect mountains.

The KC-135 dispenses more fuel in eight minutes than a pump at a typical gas station could in 24 hours. For about an hour, the stratocaster fuels this B-2, which came from Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo.

Training missions like this one happen about four times a day under normal conditions. But they were halted after the terrorist attacks and resumed Tuesday.

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