Wing Men

The brave citizens who comprise the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard, at Aurora's Buckley Air Force Base protect our state and the country at home and abroad. Here, we take an intimate look at these true hometown heroes.

July 2010

This article was a finalist for the 2011 City and Regional Magazine Award in the photography category. 

Covert Operations

Top: An F-16 banks away from the KC-135's refueling boom after a successful training exercise over terrain near La Veta, Colorado. Middle: Patrick Plonski, an airman with the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, operates the tanker's boom. Bottom: Very few people ever see the cockpit of a KC-135 tanker—the aircraft charged with refueling the Guard's F-16s midflight. Fighter pilots from Buckley have to fly their planes from Colorado to the Middle East, meaning there's little time for pit stops at the gas station. Instead, while in flight, the jets guzzle fuel through a refueling boom, an umbilical cord-like system that funnels gas into their tanks. Tankers from many different units across the country—this one flies out of Pennsylvania—visit Buckley regularly to provide training on midflight refueling.