McConnell soars to honor medical personnel and academy graduates Published April 22, 2020 By Senior Airman Alexi Bosarge 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- On Saturday, April 18, a McConnell KC-135 Stratotanker refueled the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds,” who were en route to perform flyovers in Colorado for both the Air Force Academy graduation and front line medical professionals combating COVID-19. The Thunderbirds’ presentation of precision flying and airpower would not have been possible without aerial refueling support from McConnell’s 349th Air Refueling Squadron. McConnell’s aircrew was honored to support a heartfelt, close-to-home mission. “This was my first time refueling the Thunderbirds, and the fact that it isn't just practice for them, but for them to perform a flyover was so special,” said 1st Lt. Juila Knapp, 349th ARS pilot. “The academy as well as the medical field has had a rough couple of months so it was really cool to be able to do something so special for them.” Knapp and her team refueled each of the six F-16 Fighting Falcons three times, extending their reach to Colorado. The Thunderbirds flew from Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada to Colorado Springs for the commencement and across several communities in Colorado. A KC-135 from March Air Reserve Base also assisted in aerial refueling support. “Just like in combat operations across the globe, the Thunderbirds rely on tanker support to expand our reach and flexibility to conduct complex operations like this,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, Thunderbirds commander and leader. “It’s a team effort that truly represents the pride, precision and professionalism of the 685,000 total force Airmen of the U.S. Air Force.” McConnell continues to set the standard for aerial refueling excellence with missions like refueling the Thunderbirds that require aircrew expertise.