Stretched out on their stomachs in the belly of a KC-135 tanker, Master Sgt. Gary Howard tells U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to peer out a window into the clouds.
"You'll probably just start to see them," Howard says.
The clouds fly by, the sky clearing to show snow-less landscape 21,000 feet below. And then, emerging from their left, a C-17 military cargo plane appears. It's 30- to 50- feet away, and both planes are going an estimated 300 mph.
Howard begins to lower a boom, operating what looks like a big video game joystick. Lower. Lower. The boom is directly above the cargo plane's cockpit. We're so close, you can see the other pilots' faces.
"Amazing," Ayotte says.
Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican who sits on the Armed Services Committee, joined the mission of the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base on Thursday to learn more about the unit's needs and what she can do to help.
After witnessing the boom insert into the C-17 over central Vermont and New Hampshire, Ayotte said the 157th is playing an increasingly important military role.
The Air Refueling Wing's experience, and Pease's strategic location, are reasons why the New Hampshire Air National Guard should get the next generation of tanker aircraft, the KC-46A, Ayotte said.
She noted the 157th Wing's refueling support of military operations for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the international intervention in Libya last year.
"Libya would be a static airshow without tankers," agreed Col. Paul "Hutch" Hutchinson, commander of the 157th, during a presentation at Pease Air National Guard Base HQ.
The 157th ARW saw its flying time increase by 35 percent over the year, surpassing levels flown by units with 18 jets, according to Hutchinson. In 2011, the 157th ARW logged 7,161 flying hours.