Norwin JROTC takes flight

Norwin’s cadets saw the various stages of a refueling mission aboard a KC-135 aircraft.


Colonel Sandala

The KC-135 aircraft that the cadets boarded refueled a C-130 aircraft in close proximity.

Norwin’s JROTC students hear about the principles of flight and aviation all year — through PowerPoints, worksheets and lessons. Sometimes, though, an interactive component is what really makes a difference.

Norwin AFJROTC cadets witness the flying of the KC-135 aircraft and sat in the cockpit alongside the pilots. (Colonel Sandala)

On Oct. 11, the cadets boarded a KC-135 aircraft at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, PA to witness a refueling mission. The aircraft met and refueled a C-130 aircraft from Harrisburg at an altitude of 14,000 feet; the two were only about 30 feet apart during the complex maneuver. Colonel David Sandala believes the experience was vital to the cadets’ education.

“We talk a lot about the aerospace side of the Air Force, and we talk a lot about refueling missions during class,” Sandala said. “This was an opportunity for the cadets to actually see, in real life, ‘Hey, this is how it actually happens.’ I think it was a big eye-opener.”

During the mission, some cadets were able to be in the cockpit with the pilot during takeoff and landing, while others were able to witness the “boom operator” operate the controls during the refueling part of the mission.

“They got to lay down right next to the boom operator and watch the other airplane come up within about 30 feet of our airplane,” Sandala said. “It’s very close… [the C-130] would come up, make contact, take a little bit of gas, and back off, and then we would rotate another group of students in to see.”

Sandala and Sergeant Jadlocki previously worked at the Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, and Jadlocki was able to use her contacts within the organization  to organize the opportunity for 30 Norwin cadets.

In addition to the planned events, the students coincidentally saw how adaptability can be important to a mission. Originally, the KC-135 aircraft was supposed to receive and refuel a C-17 from the 911th Airlift Wing in Coraopolis, but there were some maintenance issues that necessitated a quick switch to the C-130 from Harrisburg.

“I think they saw the flexibility… the skills and training that goes into some of those jobs,” Sandala said. “They didn’t just see the pilots. They were exposed to the enlisted air crew members, they saw the maintenance folks working on the airplane… all that goes into getting that airplane off the ground.”

Pullquote Photo

From the smiles when we got off the airplane and during the flight, I think they had a fantastic time

— Colonel David Sandala

This was the first time the club participated in this mission; in previous years, they did numerous other activities, including civil air patrol flights, in which cadets had the opportunity to fly a Cessna 182 aircraft.

Norwin AFJROTC students sit on KC-135 airplane at the 171st Air Refueling Wing in Coraopolis, PA to witness a refueling mission. (Colonel Sandala)

It doesn’t appear that this will be the last time for the refueling mission, though. Sandala is hoping to continue working with the 171st on at least a yearly basis, if not more.

“From the smiles when we got off the airplane and during the flight, I think they had a fantastic time,” Sandala said. “It is almost like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Many of Sandala’s students are hoping to take part in the mission again.

“I feel like most people jumped up at the opportunity to take this flight,” junior Albert Hewitt said. “This sounded interesting to me because, aside from getting out of school, I just thought it would be interesting to be in an aircraft that I’ve never been in before. [I’ll be doing this again] because it was very exciting.”