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Educators Flight

Posted 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2023

Laurie Harmon and Colin Belby participate in an Educators Flight with the Air National Guard.

UWL faculty fly with Air National Guard at Volk Field

UWL faculty Laurie Harmon and Colin Belby had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, thanks to alumna Kelsey Arendt. 

In July, Harmon and Belby participated in an Educators Flight with the Air National Guard at Volk Field.  

“The Air National Guard, as part of their recent promotional strategies, offered several Educator Flights this past summer. Kelsey was kind enough to put forth my name and Colin’s to participate in the flight,” says Harmon, professor of recreation management and therapeutic recreation. “Both of us were thrilled at the opportunity and joined approximately 40 other educators on this flight.“ 

Arendt, ’11, worked as an academic department associate for UWL’s Department of Geography & Environmental Science and as an internship coordinator assistant for the Department of Recreation Management & Recreation Therapy. Harmon and Belby kept in touch with her as she transitioned to a new position working with the commander at Fort McCoy. 

“While we definitely miss her, we also know this was such an exceptional experience that we were so glad to support her transition,” Harmon says.

The Educator Flight group signed up to fly in a KC-135 Stratotanker to observe refueling of two F-35 Lighting II jets based out of Madison before flying toward Duluth to refuel several F-16 fighter jets. However, educators were able to observe the Stratotanker refueling F-16s twice, due to F-16s running into weather.  

Harmon and Belby observing an aerial refueling mission.

“‘Observing’ meant that we were lying on a foam pad less than 12 inches from the head of the Boom Operator in the Stratotanker, looking out the same window he was, as each jet slowly approached the tanker,” Harmon explains. “As they linked up to the fuel dispenser in mid-air, we were looking into the eyes of the jet pilot – approximately 20 feet away. Jets were refueled in minutes.” 

The KC-135 Strantotanker’s principal mission is aerial refueling, with a cruising speed of 530 miles per hour. F-16 and newer F-35 fighter jets’ cruising speed is close to 1,200 miles per hour. The F-35 fighter jet has unlimited range with aerial refueling. 

“The incredible precision of our military personnel and the extent of what kind of equipment we have in this country,” is what Harmon is taking away from her experience with the Educators Flight. “Our hosts also shared information post trip about the range of experiences people might have with the Air National Guard. It was definitely beyond what I was previously familiar with.”

Belby, professor of geography and environmental science, was impressed by the professionalism of Air National Guard men and women.  

The Air National Guard plans to continue the Educator Flight program next summer.

“They are clearly well-trained and passionate about what they do. It was fun having an opportunity to talk before, during, and after the flight to the Air National Guard men and women that participated in the event, and to learn more about Volk Field, Belby says. I regularly drive by the airfield, but before this event, I didn’t fully know or appreciate the role it plays and the opportunities the Air National Guard provides to folks interested in serving their community and country.” 

The Air National Guard plans to continue this program next summer. 

I highly recommend participating in the Educator Flight to anyone that’s offered the opportunity,” Belby says. I never thought I’d get to fly in an Air Force plane, let alone lie down in the back of a refueling jet and peer into the cockpit of F-16 and F-35 fighters while flying over northern Wisconsin and Lake Superior. What an experience! 


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