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'It is a complete dance': 100 years of air refueling marked in Phoenix

The milestone was marked at the 161st Air Refueling Wing, which has the oldest air refueling aircraft in the Air Force.

PHOENIX — As of Tuesday, the U.S. Military has been refueling aircraft mid-flight for 100 years.  

The milestone was marked at the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Goldwater Air National Guard Base in Phoenix with a flyover of a refueling aircraft and aircraft static displays on the tarmac. 

While the event originally was going to have a receiving aircraft, it was canceled. 

"This is one of the most important missions we can have out there," Senior Airman Elizabeth Ramirez Torres of the 161st Air Refueling Wing said. 

The 161st Air Refueling Wing has the oldest KC-135 Stratotanker in the Air Force. At more than 60 years old, it's still conducting refueling missions. 

"It is a complete dance between two aircraft, and believe it or not, it's actually pretty stable," Col. Dean Owen, Vice Wing Commander of the 161st Air Refueling Wing, said.

While originally successful in 1923, air refueling wasn't used on a large scale until after World War II. 

"My grandfather was a fighter pilot during World War II and one of his biggest fears is running out of fuel... He's told me several times about squadrons that were lost at sea because they ran out of fuel. Today, that's kind of unheard of because of the advent of air refueling," Owen said. 

For a quarter of the century milestone, Senior Master Sergeant Ilario Sanchez of the 161st Air Refueling Wing has been an in-flight refueler. Sanchez is responsible for the specialized boom that transfers fuel to the military aircraft.

"It's very thrilling, it's exciting. It never gets old," Sanchez said. "You pop that window in the back and you got a great view of whatever's down below - could be snow-capped mountains, it could be canyons, it could be forests, it could be desert, but it's always different."

Now, Sanchez is teaching others to carry on the important operation to help keep military aircraft in the skies. 

"It's a privilege for me," Sanchez said. "It's an honor, actually."

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