47 pictures.

So you know how much I hate to fly, and you know how ironic that is considering how much I used to love love love flying and airplanes and fighter jets and space and JINX SEND GINNY TO SPACE, as Woy often texts to me out of the clear blue sky for no apparent reason.

If you don’t know what movie that’s from, you can’t be my friend, you ridiculously young whippersnapper.

God. I’ve gotten so old. Where the hell did my 30s go? Do you have them? Can I have six of them back?

As I was saying in meandering fashion, I’m old. Wait, no. I HATE FLYING.

Hate it.


Too high. Too fast. Too bumpy. Too burning death-y.

But when the 171st Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard invited me to see what it’s like to refuel a jet in mid-flight, I manned up. I put my big girl Depends on. I doubled up with some Poise Pads. I kissed my kids and my husband goodbye and I got into a cavernous plane … and well, you’ll have to go read to see how I reacted when a fighter jet flew within 40 feet of our plane.

Read it here.

And take a look at these pictures. I’m still struggling with feeling less than competent with my DSLR. Hoping Burgh Baby will have a new class soon for those of us who know the basics, but want to go even further with our photography. Ahem.

The briefing. This is where we learned all about the 171st and the planes we would be flying in. We also learned about the airmen (there are LOTS of women in the 171st too. It just so happens that our flight on this day was with all men.) that would be taking us up. Many of them are part-timers who have jobs outside of the Air National Guard. They are teachers, engineers, computer techs, etc. They are awesome. Brave. And can have a plane in the air at a moment’s notice if called upon.

In the plane. We were told to dress warmly despite the fact that it was the middle of the summer. Because it was going to get SUPER COLD up in the air.

When you read the column, this is the pilot who said, “Because it’s us.”

In the cockpit heading toward our rendezvous. SO MANY BUTTONS, JINX.

Up in the air. There’s something oddly comforting about seeing USAF on the wing of your plane.


The fish-eye back window of the plane. This is obviously before the jet approached for refueling. This is the window the airman will look out of, while lying down on his stomach, to use a joystick to maneuver the fuel delivery doohickey stick into the fuel receivership hole of the jet. As you can tell, I’m using official USAF terminology here.


And here’s the plane coming in for fuel. As you can see, I wasn’t exaggerating in my column when I said you could see the pilot’s eyeballs. That plane is about 40 feet away from our plane and both planes were traveling at about what? 600 miles per hour? Dear. God. What if the pilot of either plane had to sneeze just then? I’m just now thinking about that. These guys have nerves of steel. Officially.

Here’s the airman controlling the joystick. (Funny story. I ran into this this particular airman at Giant Eagle near my house about a week after this flight.) This shot also gives you an idea of how close the other plane was to ours. DEAR. GOD.

When it was time to begin our descent into Pittsburgh, I heard, “Montanez!”

And I was like, “SIR, YES SIR, SIR SIR, YES SIR?!”

And the airman informed me I was to sit in the cockpit during landing. Talk about baptism by fire.

At first I was seated here:

And then they moved me up so I could be staring our landing right it the eyeballs.

Going down.



Safe on the ground with the whole group. I’m standing next to Jennifer Connelly whose husband Scott is a member of the 171st:

Amen and that’s church:

Go read!

These men and women have served in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guam, and more. They served during 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other domestic crises. They’re in our towns, in our schools, in our stores, and they spend time away from their families each month to train to be ready to go when called upon.

Appreciate them.

And never fail to let them know that you do.


  1. Bekah
    January 7, 2013 11:45 am

    I always enjoy reading your blog posts; but this one is really inspiring. We do owe these men so much!!

  2. SteelCityMagnolia
    January 7, 2013 1:42 pm

    Holiest. Freaking. Wow.

    That’s all.

  3. red pen mama
    January 7, 2013 2:04 pm

    Awesomest thing ever.

  4. Niki
    January 7, 2013 2:11 pm

    SpaceCamp!! What do I win? :)

  5. Lauryn
    January 7, 2013 2:22 pm

    Love the Space Camp quotes. Good stuff.

    I was in Civil Air Patrol in HS. We did all sorts of military stuff, but one of the coolest things was visiting the 171 and getting a tour of the facility and aircraft. I remember laying in the boomer position wondering what it actually looked like when there was another plane below. Now I know.

    Thanks 171!

  6. steelertom
    January 7, 2013 2:26 pm

    You made a comment “And they can have a plane in the air at a moment’s notice” Or something to that effect. I’d like to recognise that it happens because of “Maintainers” on the ground. a lot of blood sweat & tears goes into maintaining those beasts. The tanker maintainers are working with some of the oldest aircraft in the inventory. To put it in perspective, these jets are the civilian equivelent of Boeing 707’s, now ask yourself how many 707’s are still flying commericially? I just checked, only 2 being flown commercially by Iran and that’s of Aug 2011. No one knows if they still are. As a retired USAF crew chief, this humbles me because I worked really new aircraft during my career. These guys all kick serious butt!

  7. BeckyS
    January 7, 2013 6:11 pm

    171st your are the finest and that my dears is church.

  8. facie
    January 7, 2013 10:38 pm

    Wow. My jaw dropped at several of those photos. Not much more to say other than thanks for sharing. Off to read your column!

  9. bucdaddy
    January 8, 2013 11:19 am

    It’s not the actual flying that bothers me. Once we’re in the air, I enjoy it. I like looking out the window. One of my favorite experiences ever was flying out of LAX. The plane went far out over the ocean (as close to Japan as I’ll ever get) and then did a 180 back over the city and the (San Gabriel?) mountains behind LA and then over the desert, with the browns and yellows and oranges, and then over what I figure must have been the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, from 28,000 or 35,000 feet or whatever it was. It was amazingly beautiful.

    It’s not the actual flying, it’s the soul-deadening process of processing through the airport, the airport itself, and cramming into the plane. It’s about as lousy a day as they can make it.

    Mrs. Daddy, who never wants to fly, ever, and I have taken to using Amtrak to go see Bucdaughter in Conn. It’s a pretty long day, but I’ve noticed something: Nobody in an airport or on a plane ever looks happy. (Next time you fly, look around.) I think it’s because when you fly, you almost expect to reach your destination immediately, in the next two minutes, because duh, you’re flying, it should be really really fast. But inevitably it isn’t anything like instant, it’s usually delay delay be really uncomfortable for an hour or more … Nobody looks happy.

    Anybody who takes the train knows going in, it’s going to take awhile, might as well settle in and enjoy it. And people on the train seem to me generally a little to a lot happier about it. Besides the fact you can take your own snacks and booze on the train with you and get delightfully hammered and sleep or get up and walk around or go to the dining car and get a good beer (Dogfish 60 on the Pennsylvanian, at somewhat less than what you’d pay for it at PNC Park, can I get a witness, Spoon?), and there’s a very good beer restaurant at the Philly station. And when we finally get there, we don’t feel like we’ve been stuffed in the luggage compartment for three hours.

    • Butcher's Dog
      January 9, 2013 8:30 am

      I’ll witness the beer restaurant at the Philly station. Probably the only redeeming quality the city has except for that whole Declaration of Independence thing.

  10. bucdaddy
    January 8, 2013 11:56 am


    Guam …

    Oh, you mean like WWII?

  11. MattDC
    January 13, 2013 7:01 pm

    Amazing pictures, qualifying you as an official high-risk badass. In my entire 58 years, it has never occurred to me to say “yes” when invited to ride in an extremely large, aluminum tube 30,000 feet in the sky at 300 knots, filled with thousands of gallons of extremely flammable liquid — attached by a small hose to ANOTHER independently-steered, extremely large aluminum tube. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have just shredded your credibility for self-effacing humor and Depends jokes. And unlike you, seeing the “USAF” on the wing would have reminded me disturbingly of a dystopian 1963 Twilight Zone episode — yet another reason for me to turn down the kind offer of the ANG supermen and allow Ginny to be the hero.

  12. Guido
    January 18, 2013 3:11 pm

    I was able to fly with the 171st as part of an incentive flight at Cannon AFB, NM in 1995. They were on station temporary duty (TDY) and were refueling F-111 and EF-111 aircraft. It had to be, hands down, the best damn flight I had ever been on. I got “to maneuver the fuel delivery doohickey stick” as you put it but with no aircraft in the vicinity. I’m thinking you were on one of the older KC-135s… the SAC (Stategic Air Command) logo on the nose got my attention.

    Oh, and the crew that came to Cannon brought Iron City with them! Icing on the cake!!