By Christopher A Pape
As the editor-in-chief of a well-known Manhattan magazine, I am no stranger to receiving invitations that normal civilians may not be privileged. Recently, I test-drove a Ferrari in the Hamptons, I learned to fly a Cessna and I just got back from a wonderful trip in Park City, Utah. But none of those can compare to the mind-boggling adventure I just experienced.
In recognition of Air Force Week in NY – similar to Fleet Week - I was asked to witness a mid-air refueling mission for F-15s. Whisked away, to JFK, with 20 other media outlets, we all prepared ourselves for the journey of a lifetime.
Not knowing what to expect, we arrived dewy-eyed at the airport to find that American Airlines (hosting the event with the Air Force) had rolled out the red carpet for us. With platters of food, high-ranking American Airlines’ employees and most special of all, a gate lined with at least four-dozen American flags, we were all enthralled and thankful for the gracious reception.
Before boarding, all I could think of was that I was going to be strapped into my seat (I’ve seen too many military movies) of the KC-10, part of the 514th Air Mobility Wing, which flies from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in NJ. But I couldn’t be more wrong. With seats similar to those found on a commercial aircraft, we sat, waiting for take off and then waiting for the fighter jets to rendezvous with our location.
All were in suspense, for none had ever experienced something as dramatic and conceivably as Top Secret as the assignment we were on. Those from CNN, AOL and foreign correspondents were as anxious as I was to finally see the F15s (the Ferraris of the skies).
Off the coast of Connecticut – 100 miles out to sea – we waited for and finally saw - out our porthole-sized windows – those majestic beauties; so close were they that we waved back and forth to each other. Yet the real action was where the boom (like a gas pump) was located – in the bowls of the wide-bodied plane.
The operator of the boom – Master Sgt. Ray Cruz III - with decades of training under his belt, used precise and subtle movements of his joystick to connect both of these sophisticated metal birds together. Once the connection was made, 1,100 gallons of fuel per minute was pumping out of the converted jetliner into the fighter, in a dance that resembled the tango of professional dancers.
After four sorties we headed back to JFK where we proceeded to watch the departing KC-10 receive a water-cannon salute by the airport staff. At that moment – and throughout – I was never prouder to be an American.
For more information, visit: www.airforceweek.af.mil