MacDill helps Thunderbirds get to Daytona 500

Posted at 3:25 PM, Feb 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-19 18:30:19-05
A refueling aircraft from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa met up with the Thunderbirds to top off their tanks in mid-flight, and ABC Action News went along for the ride.
The Thunderbirds took off Friday morning from their home base in Las Vegas, Nevada en route for Daytona, Florida where they will perform at the Daytona 500.
TONIGHT AT 6 | Watch Action News to see the refueling team in action
But not even the famous Thunderbirds can make that trip on a single tank of gas.
"I've been at MacDill for six years. This is the first time I've ever done the Thunderbirds," said Matthew Scott, Boom Operator for the 91st Air Refueling Squadron.
The mission started around 3 a.m. Friday, when the crew prepped the KC-135 Stratotanker -- one of 16 in the ancient yet nibble refueling fleet at MacDill.
The inside the aircraft looks more like a cargo plane with plenty of room for military troops and supplies.
But the tail of the plane -- the refueling pod -- is where all the action happens.
Somewhere high above Nevada the KC-135 met up with the Thunderbirds to begin unloading a total of 60-thousand gallons of fuel.
"We're going to make sure they can get gas, give them a little bit, and then we'll hit them again that way they can make it all the way over (to Daytona)," explained Scott.
One by one, the fighter pilots breakaway from their iconic formation and basically line up at the gas pump.
"It's pretty dangers. You've got a guy that's 50 feet away from you and you're bringing him in closer and closer until he gets into contact," Scott said.
It takes a ample amount of training, a steady hand, and great aim to navigate the boom into the roof of each jet.
The boom operator, who lays down flat in the pod, is in constant contact with each pilot, counting down how many feet until they make contact.
Once the fueling beings, it's fast. Pilots can fill up faster than you can top off your Camry.
"It's a pretty difficult job but once you've done it a few times, it gets easier and easier over time," Scott said.
The KC-135 goes anywhere and everywhere, serving a critical need for our military and keeping this country safe.
During missions where fighter jets are taking out specific targets, the refueling plane is not far behind. The jets may keep returning for fuel countless times for hours on end until their target is destroyed.