While this weekend's immensely popular Arctic Thunder air show will feature an assortment crazy-fast and crazy-nimble aircraft from the Lower 48, let's not overlook the Alaska Air National Guard's KC-135 Stratotanker that can offer sweet fuel to the flyboys.

While not the fastest plane in the air, the KC-135 from Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks offers some eye-popping statistics as part of its mission to support Pacific Air Forces missions as a member of the 168th Air Refueling Wing.

'Best job in the Air Force'

• Despite weighing more than 160 tons at takeoff, the KC-135 Stratotanker manages to get airborne. Every single time.

• Depending on how its storage is configured, the KC-135 can carry 83,000 pounds of cargo.

• Nearly all fuel transfers go through its flying boom, with just one crew member, the boom operator, controlling the action from the aft of the plane.

• Some aircraft have been configured with a multipoint refueling system, consisting of special pods mounted on the wingtips. These KC-135s are capable of refueling two aircraft simultaneously.

"(This is the) best job in the Air Force, as far as I'm concerned," said Chief Master Sgt. Paul Nunemann of the 168th Air Refueling Squadron. In his 26 years in the Air Force – 23 of them at Eielson – Nunemann has spent more than 3,500 hours on refueling missions.

The air refueling squadron has been in operation since 1990 and in the more than two decades since then has seen "the latest and greatest aeronautics upgrades," Nunemann said.

"We're looking forward to fellow Alaskans sharing in the adventure," added Tech. Sgt. Richard Smith, noncommissioned officer in charge of scheduling.

Showcasing F-16s

Another Eielson unit joining the 168th Air Refueling Squadron in Anchorage for the big show is 354th Fighter Wing's 18th Aggressor Squadron, which will showcase their F-16s.

"The 354th Fighter Wing mission is to prepare the war fighter for combat . . . and enable other units in their efforts to deploy, fly, fight, and win," said Air Force Maj. Eric Flattem, 18th Aggressor Squadron assistant director of operations and native of Monett, Mo.

"Primarily we are the Pacific Air Force's premier adversaries," he said. "We train PACAF's war fighters by knowing the threat as subject matter experts, teaching the combat air forces about adversary capabilities, and replicating the threat."

Show details

The Arctic Thunder show July 28-29 is frequently considered the largest two-day show in Alaska with more than 100,000 spectators. It serves as an opportunity for the base to show its appreciation for the support it gets in Alaska, while educating visitors about its mission and recruiting. Gates open at 9 a.m. each day with flying starting an hour later. Acts should include:

• Air Force Thunderbirds

• Army Golden Knights Parachute team

• F-22 Raptor Demonstration

• Gary Ward

• Oregon Aero SkyDancers

Coolers, drugs, alcohol, pets and glass beverage contains are among prohibited items.

Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett writes for the public affairs department at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Here's the full schedule for Arctic Thunder Air Show:


Starting Time

Gold Knights


3Wg Flyby


Skip Stewart




C130 Airdrop




Oregon Aero Sky Dancer


B-52 Flyby


Gary Ward




Marcus Paine




Runway Sweep


F-22 Demo


USAF Thunderbirds