Rotary hears all about airport’s 134th Air Refueling Wing

The 134th Air Refueling Wing of Tennessee Air National Guard at McGhee-Tyson Airport keeps the Air Force, Navy Marine Corps and allied national aircraft fueled and in the skies.

Lt. Col. Travers Hurst, the wing executive officer of the 134th Wing, shared the unit’s purpose to Rotary Club of Farragut members during their meeting in Farragut Community Center Wednesday, Sept. 13.

The unit uses its 10 KC-135 Stratotankers to do their job, and has been providing aerial refueling for the U.S. Air Force for more than 50 years.

Hurst said those planes were built between 1957 and 1962.

“Anybody drive their classic car today?” he asked, then added, “We drive (the planes) all the time. If you got on them, you would be amazed at how well they look and how good they perform.

“Obviously, they are continuously maintained, “ Hurst added. “Our maintenance does an outstanding job.”

But its current tanker variation is KC-135, which it got in the 1970s.

They work out of a new $31 million hanger, completed 18 months ago.

“It only took us 25 years to get it through Congress,” he added.

“The Army Guard is in every county in the state, but we are only in four main areas: Memphis in the West, where there are huge cargo planes and train personnel; Chattanooga, its engineering and installation squadron; Nashville’s headquarters station, which does cyber missions and remotely flown drones; and the McGhee-Tyson Airport,” Hurst said. “We have 363 acres (at McGhee-Tyson). We are the second largest Guard base around.

“We’re on lease from the MKA, from the airport,” he added. “We have a lease through 2060. We’re getting ready to extend that through 2110.”

While the Guard’s federal mission is to fly and fight overseas, Hurst said it also has a state mission, which Gov. Bill Lee discovered during the COVID pandemic and other events.

During 1957, the Guard took over from active duty, flying fighters “mainly to protect Oak Ridge,” Hurst said. “Then, around 1964, we got in the air refueling business.

“Paul Harvey’s joke, when he (gave) his brief, is we have been passing gas since 1964, he added,” eliciting laughter.

Hurst said 35 percent of the Guard’s troops come out of Knox County, 25 percent out of Blount County and also have airmen from 16 other states.

While other states’ National Guards struggle, he said, “We are the Tennessee volunteers. We are blessed we don’t have a recruiting issue. We are fully staffed.”

What keeps Hurst up at night is China.

“I anticipate the next fight will be with China,” he explained.

As such, “we are on call 24/7 and have been for over 50 years, as part of the nuclear mission,” Hurst said.