One of the best parts of having a website like UnitedStatesTanker.com is receiving emails from the men and women who have served our nation in the U.S. Air Force. They have some incredible stories related to Boeing tankers that I’d like to share with you. And there’s not a better time to do that than this week from one of the best shows in the world – the 2009 Airlift/Tanker Association convention and symposium in Nashville, Tenn.
I have my own great memories related to the KC-135. My assignment at Loring Air Force Base in Northern Maine was to a KC-135R unit known as the 407th Air Refueling Squadron. While my job was to serve as a non-flying executive officer, the aircrews made a point to take me flying with them as much as possible so I could learn “the business.” It was then I realized how close-knit folks can get in a flying squadron and how hard they work. Our toughness was tested when our base went through a horrific crash and terrible tragedy. Yet we all came together and still got the Strategic Air Command mission done. To this day, I’m so thankful to have been a small part of that unit and proud to have served with the 407th.
Hope you enjoy these great stories…we’ve posted them unedited and only removed the last names for privacy reasons.
“My love of aviation goes back to my childhood. I don't know if it's because of an early airplane ride from an uncle or having grown up in Boeing country. Somewhere in Junior High I decided I wanted to be a crew chief on a KC-135 Stratotanker. After completion of Basic training at Lackland AFB I was sent to school to learn how to work on USAF aircraft. I was surprised and extremely happy when I discovered that I was to be a crew chief on KC-135's. Stationed at Ellsworth AFB in SD I got to enjoy 4 yrs working on both KC and EC 135's. The story I remember best is when a B-1 went down on our south hammerhead. All 4 crew members ejected, but one was hurt pretty bad. Latter on that day we got the word to prep one of our birds for immediate Medivac for the injured B-1 crew member. We were able to prep a KC-135 and launch it several hours before the next medical plane could even arrive. This is but one story of a wonderful aircraft. Just a side note, the two planes I worked on were KC-135R 62-3540 and KC135A 61-0289. Both were built before I was even born.”
“I was the crew chief on KC-135A tail number 59-1498 from 1972-1974. I flew that tanker to Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War, out of U-Tapao RTNAB during LINEBACKER I & II ... we had a F-4 come up to get fuel over Da Nang in a thunderstorm ... get fuel or punch out ... we passed fuel in some of the nastiest air I've flown through ... a great boom operator and a great aircraft got that Phantom home that night ... I sat SAC Alert countless times at Pease AFB, Westover AFB and Goose Bay Labrador, I flew it in support of the Yom Kippur War in Oct 1973 out of Lajes for 2 weeks .. that aircraft never let me down and was always pride of the fleet at Pease. Later in my (2002) career (now an officer and Medical Commander at Pope AFB NC) ... a fellow commander found my old bird at Mt Home and had my retirement flag flown onboard a Red Flag mission and I got a great letter from the crew ... a short time later, the aircraft transferred to ANG and another fellow Commander had the old crew chief tool box saved and sent to me as a retirement gift. I retired from in 2003 ... I rejoined the USAFR in 2004, while I did not get a chance to see the aircraft again ... I recently "re-retired" from the USAFR and my First Sgt found me a photo of 1498 and presented it to me at my Change of Command ceremony 3 weeks ago. That tanker has been a part of America's Air Defense backbone for 50 years ... she still flies in Bangor Maine ... still serving and even out-lasted my 36 years of service. No one can match Boeing for building a Tanker ... period... end of story. Find an airlifter better than the C-17 around the world ... can't be done ... and you never find a better tanker than one with "BOEING" stamped on the data plate.”
“As a former E-3A AWACS flight crewmember (flight engineer), some of our long (and I mean LONG) missions suddenly turned into a fuel-critical situation. Speaking from personal experience, it sure was nice to slide up behind that KC-135 tanker, keeping the mission on track and producing a successful mission outcome. Thanks to all the folks who put that critical resource in the right place at the right time! It's why I am here today to tell the tale.”
“I was a KC-135R flying crew chief for the 19ARW out of Robins AFB for about 7 years. My greatest recollection was of my final flight taking a Capstone mission of General officers into Moscow Russia. I was first off the plane to secure engine shutdown and pin gears. When I looked up I never saw so many people staring at a U.S. airplane. Made me tremendously proud that day to be part of ending the cold war.”
“My experience starts with the KC-135Q tanker. This version is unique in that it was the only version capable of refueling the A-12, YF-12, SR-71 Blackbird family of airplanes. Unlike other airplanes, (which used JP-4 or JP-8 fuel), the Blackbirds used JP7 fuel. So the Q model tanker had to have separate storage provisions to accomplish its mission. Other interesting facts about this tanker: 1. It was the first aircraft with an integral boom intercom. This was for aircraft-to-aircraft communication, while still maintaining radio silence. 2. Another unique system installed on this airplane was a rendezvous beacon. It consisted of a special transponder capable of interrogating the Blackbird’s IFF signal so its reply could be displayed on the modified AN-APN59 search and weather radar system. Without using the radios, they could use this system to rendezvous with the Blackbird using only the tankers radar display. 3. It was also one of the first KC-135 aircraft modified with the high-speed boom. My job was to teach avionics technicians how to troubleshoot and repair various navigation systems installed on this unique aircraft. I was an Air Training Command (ATC) Field Training Detachment (FTD) instructor assigned to Beale AFB, California at the time. (1983-1987) My next experience with tankers was during my assignment to Air Mobility Command Headquarters (HQ AMC) at Scott AFB, Illinois, (1995-1998). I was assigned to the Logistics directorate as the Navigation Systems Superintendent. My job was to oversee logistic issues and projects on the various AMC aircraft. I got to see the Air Force acquisition process first hand while assigned to that position. Of particular note during my assignment to AQ AMC was the report produced on USAF Tanker capabilities and the forecast for KC-135 fleet replacement. This was done sometime in 1995 or 1996. At that time, the consensus of the team investigating the issue concluded that the KC-135 fleet was completely sustainable through the year 2025. That being so, now is the time to start the process of developing the replacement for this venerable old workhorse. I am currently a Instructor/Developer for 787 Maintenance Training.”
“From August 1971 to June of 1979 I was crew chief in US Air Force responsible for performing pre and post flight inspection and maintenance of a KC135 Tanker. My primary responsibility was to insure that it was flight ready when called upon. My duty assignments locations ranged from Altus, AFB Oklahoma, March AFB, Riverside, Alaska, Bangkok Thailand, Guam, Spain, Philippines, Hawaii and others. Of note my aircraft was part of the Squadron that supported Air Refueling Operations in Southeast Asia toward the end of the Vietnam War. We refueled everything from B52s, F4s, FB111's, F104's to SR71's. Never had to abort a mission because of a failure of the KC135 . Because of the reliability of the aircraft I received highest award - the U.S Air Force Commendation Metal which I still have to this day.”
“I was a survival instructor in the USAF 1979-1983. My job was to train pilots and aircrew members how to survive in the wild if their aircraft were to crash. I received a commendation for instructor of the quarter one year and got to ride along in a KC-135 refueling mission to refuel a squadron of F-16 fighters over Nevada (Nellis AFB). It was a pat on the back and allowed me the opportunity to learn first hand what some of our aircrews do. I got to sit in the boom pit and fly the boom not during the actual refueling but just before. It was an amazing flight. The precision flying and ability to pump gas at 10,000 feet was pretty cool. The skill of the boom operator and pilots to do this was amazing. The F-16 pilots had their visors down and if they had not I would have been able to see their faces clearly. Looking at the ground 10,000 feet away and the F-16 approach was surreal. I don’t know if this is interesting enough but it was to me and I still tell the story from time to time to my kids. The story gets better each year.”
“I used to be a Master Navigator on the KC-135. I'm used to running rendezvous as both a tanker and receiver. I was once Wing Navigator at Grissom AFB, the largest tanker wing ever in the world. Although I'm sure your aircraft doesn't have a navigator position, it should. I saved my crew several times when electronic systems failed, but I could still keep the aircraft on course by using shots on the sun, moon, and stars. Flying on tankers was the best job I ever had!”
“I was in the Air Force for 10 years, from 1981 to 1991. Seven of those years I was an In-Flight Refueler on KC-135 A, R, and Q models. I've refueled aircraft as old as F-106's to F-117's. I have always been impressed with the performance of the KC-135's as was all of my crew members. The KC-135's had so many back up systems, we never, at an point, feared of losing a mission or an aircraft, for that matter. We always considered our aircraft to be the work horses of the fleet. Many times the KC-10's got the glory missions, but the KC-135's were always the ones that were waiting in the wings backing them up - because we were so dependable. I always considered 135's to be a graceful and reliable aircraft and when we went to air shows and put on static displays, I was proud to show people my tanker. She truely was the dependable work horse of the fleet.”