When you’re cruising 350 miles-per-hour at 25,000 feet, you don’t generally want to look out the cockpit window and see another widebody jet only a few feet ahead. But the other day, that’s exactly what I saw. I felt a little bit of fear and a lot of awe as our 400,000-pound KC-10 cozied up to another widebody KC-10 for some mid-air refueling. Although my Air Force pilot husband does this day in and day out, I was absolutely dumbstruck watching it in real time, especially since both the aircraft commander and the co were in their twenties. After years at United, I’m used to gray-haired experience at the front. And this was no auto-pilot scenario. Staying in a “safe” position and attached to the tanker’s refueling boom requires constant adjustments to the yoke and throttles, not to mention intense focus. Amazingly, pilots do this for as up to thirty minutes, or in extreme cases, an hour. Even the plane doesn’t seem to be comfortable as its traffic collision avoidance system repeatedly says, “traffic, traffic.” Until the pilots turn it off that is.
Here’s the short video I took.“