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Penguins Proud to Be Represented on Military Plane

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Who says Penguins can’t fly?

The members of the 171st Air Fueling Wing (based at the Pittsburgh International Airport) would surely disagree, as the unit’s KC-135T stratotanker will be taking the Penguins with them as they embark on missions all over the world – at least in spirit.

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That’s because the nose of the plane is now decorated with a beautiful painting celebrating the team and the city of Pittsburgh. And on Wednesday morning, the Penguins players showed their thanks to the troops by stopping and signing the front of the jet just under the artwork before boarding their own flight to California.

“Seeing this means a lot to us and we appreciate it,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think for the military, hopefully this is something that’s pretty neat for them too. Whoever’s on this aircraft I’m sure will be happy to use it.”

Putting a Penguins-themed design on the plane was the brainchild of tech sergeant John Blinkey and his crew. As crew chief of the plane, Blinkey can decide how to embellish the front of his aircraft however he sees fit – and being a both a resident of Beaver County and a Penguins supporter, he decided to represent the team he grew up rooting for.

“We were coming up with an idea, and I’ve always been a Penguins fan,” he explained. “I have five members on my crew, and they said why don’t we do the Penguins? I said, that’s a great idea. Let me get ahold of them. It was so easy talking to the Penguins. They made this so simple. They couldn’t do enough for us.”

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The 171st Air Fueling Wing, which is the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s largest unit, was among the first units called to duty almost immediately after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and right in southwestern Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, the KC-135T stratotanker travels all over the globe providing aerial refueling to all types of aircraft – and Blinkey says so far, the Penguins artwork has been a hit everywhere they go.

“Any time we land, especially with this jet – they come out and take pictures of it,” Blinkey said. “We were in Germany and they came out and everybody was staring at it. As soon as any one of our jets land anywhere, people are out because our nose art is kind of distinctive.”

And the Penguins couldn’t be more proud to be with the crew in spirit as they embark on their missions.

“It’s pretty awesome,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think one of the highlights and one of the coolest things about being a head coach and being a part of the Penguins is seeing the effect in some of the flags and some of the emblems we have overseas with our troops. To see it on a plane here that goes over, it’s pretty darn cool.”

Added Crosby, “We appreciate everything that the troops do and we’re happy to kind of join in a certain way here by signing it. That’s our way of saying thanks.”
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