RAF MILDENHALL, England -- A black-letter jet in the Air Force is equivalent to the sighting of a unicorn among a herd of horses.
Rarely talked about, and even less witnessed, is an aircraft which has zero discrepancies. Because of its rarity, earning "black-letter jet" status is a coveted achievement. For most, to be a part of the process is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - spoken about in reverent tones and fondly recalled as a highlight in one's career.
This achievement now belongs to a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to RAF Mildenhall. The jet, tail number 63-8027, currently deployed to Moron Air Base, Spain, is the first black-letter jet assigned here in seven years.
"The last black-letter aircraft we had at (RAF) Mildenhall was in 2006; this one is especially noteworthy as it happened at a deployed location with limited resources and personnel," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Charissa Cherrington, 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron commander.
The tanker, originally maintained by the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, continually received routine maintenance and quality assurance checks from the 351st EARS maintenance section. It was while forward-deployed to Moron AB where the aircraft received its coveted status. Upon confirmation of being a black-letter jet, U.S. Air Force Col. Nancy Bozzer, 100th Operations Group commander, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Rofelio Grinston, 100th AMXS commander, flew to Moron and personally congratulated the crew who made it possible.
The crew received a personalized plaque, which is proudly displayed in their squadron. Additionally, the crew were presented a Spanish tile, screen printed with a group photo in front of their jet, presented by members of the host base. The tile will be displayed inside the jet to commemorate the achievement. The accomplishment also belonged to the host base as well as U.S. Marines, who also provided assistance.
Achieving zero maintenance write-ups may sound simple. However, on a highly-complex, 50-year-old airframe, it's anything but simple. Even the smallest repair, such as a burned out light bulb, will result in a maintenance discrepancy -- thus keeping the aircraft from qualifying for black-letter status. For any aircraft, albeit one as old as this particular jet, achieving black-letter status is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the maintenance crew assigned to it.