Air Force tanker, carrying students on STEM field trip, makes emergency landing at MacDill

A fire truck can be seen from the cockpit of the KC-135 after landing.

A KC-135 refueling plane, carrying teen girls from two Bay Area schools on a STEM experience, had to make an emergency landing at MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday.

The flight, featuring an all-female flight crew, took off this morning on a mission to refuel a C-17 cargo plane over the Carolinas. Also aboard were about two dozen students and staff members from local middle schools in what a base spokesman said was the first-ever all-girls STEM flight.

FOX 13’s Elizabeth Fry was also onboard the plane to produce a feature story about the flight.

According to Fry, an unknown in-flight emergency occurred a few minutes after takeoff, requiring the plane to return to MacDill. The civilians on the plane were given smoke and oxygen hoods, while the Air Force crew received oxygen through their normal equipment.

An amber smoke and oxygen mask can be seen as the KC-135 prepares to land.

The plane landed safely at the South Tampa base, where it was greeted with fire trucks. Everyone aboard was evacuated via emergency slides and checked for injuries by base personnel, who cleared all of the students. Two sisters were taken to the hospital at the request of their parent, but there was no word of any serious injuries.

There was no official word on the nature of the in-flight emergency, but some of the students in the rear of the plane told Elizabeth Fry that there was a small amount of smoke. An Air Force spokesman said it could be a few days before maintenance crews can determine exactly what happened.

"Today’s flight was designed to introduce students to opportunities in Air Force STEAM-related careers and experience one of the Air Force’s unique capabilities, air refueling," an Air Force statement noted. "Although the flight did not end the way we would have liked it to, the  highly skilled pilots and crew members demonstrated professionalism in handling this situation, ultimately leading to a safe landing and safe exit from the aircraft."

MacDill’s fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers refuels military aircraft around the world and the gray planes are a common sight flying in and out of Tampa. While most of their missions receive little press coverage, the Air Force sometimes carries dignitaries, media, and students on orientation flights like this one.

The students on today's flight were from two middle schools; some were part of a robotics class and othere were in a Girls Who Code group.