Fueling The Force

April 22, 2014 | South Tampa Magazine | Categories: Editorial, Military | Tags: 6th Air Mobility Wing, 927th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill, MacDill Air Force Base

Fueling the Force

The 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Provides Global Air Refueling Missions And Airlift Operations


Given the length of its existence, the 6th Air Mobility Wing’s tenure at MacDill Air Force Base has been relatively short lived. But in terms of visibility, there’s no larger military presence in the community than the massive refueling planes that soar through the skies over South Tampa.

In 1993, MacDill’s involvement with the Air Force’s fighter mission was terminated and it looked like our skies would go silent. However, the Department of Defense decided to relocate the 6th Air Mobility Wing to Tampa and assigned an aerial refueling squadron to MacDill in 1994.

The first Mobility Wing traces back to the early years of American military aviation when early airmen of the 6th Composite Group in the Panama Canal Zone flew patrol missions, conducted maneuvers and participated in goodwill flights to Central and South America.

During WWII, the Wing was renamed the 6th Bombardment Group and continued to operate in the Panama until 1943 when it was inactivated. The Group would later relocate to Kadena, Okinawa until it was resurrected fully as the 6th Bombardment Wing at Walker AFM in New Mexico. The Wing assisted with the Korean Conflict and Cold War and stayed at Walker AFB until it closed in 1967 and moved to Alaska for reconnaissance missions and air refueling assignments.

In 1994, the Wing traded parkas for board shorts, coming back to the south to assist with airlift and transport units at MacDill. Since coming to the base, the Mobility Wing has played vital roles in the Global War on Terrorism after 9/11 and provided relief efforts to misplaced and critically injured Haitians affected by the earthquake in January 2010.

By far the most glorious of tenants at MacDill, the 927th Air Refueling Wing flies all across the world to provide fuel to other military units. MacDill has 16 KC 135 refueling planes on base.

When assigned to a refueling mission, the planes are typically staffed with a four-man team. Most famous for refueling other aircrafts in mid air, the planes have a boom located at the base of the tail wing where an operator lies on his stomach and carefully guides the boom into a port on the top of the jet below. The planes can fly to anywhere in the world and often do.

But when they’re not in the air roaring over South Tampa, the planes are constantly being serviced and inspected for maximum safety. With so many planes relying on them for fuel, every piece of equipment must be up-to-code and working properly.

“If we can’t pass gas, we’re worthless,” says Lt. Col. Joseph Heilhecker.