Friday, May 29, 2009

Last Utah ANG KC-135E Stratotanker retires

For my readers who are serial/buno trackers.

By Master Sgt. Burke Baker, 151st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Col. Kelvin Findlay, 151st Air Refueling Wing commander, sits in the flight deck of the Utah Air National Guard’s last KC-135 E-model Stratotanker before it was flown from the Air Guard base here to nearby Hill Air Force Base where it was officially accepted into the Hill Aerospace Museum for public display. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Emily Monson)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The last KC-135 "E" model Stratotanker assigned to the Utah Air National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Wing flew its final flight May 21.

Aircraft tail number 57-1510 was flown approximately 15 miles from the Air Guard base in Salt Lake City to nearby Hill Air Force Base where it was officially accepted into the Hill Aerospace Museum for public display.

Number 57-1510 came to Utah on Aug. 21, 1978, when it was assigned to the 151st ARW and had been with the Utah ANG ever since.

"This is an airframe that has a 30-year history in Utah," said Scott Wirz, director of the museum. "I think that it is only fitting that it comes here for exhibit."

The flight of the E-model to Hill AFB took planning and coordination between the Hill Aerospace Museum, the Utah Air National Guard and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

"This will be our first tanker on display at the museum," said Mr. Wirz. "The KC-135 has filled a vital mission and one that is oftentimes overlooked. We take a lot of pride in the Air Force and the Air National Guard plays a huge role in the total force partnership. I think this exhibit will reflect that pride and partnership nicely."

In addition to the museum planning, coordinators also had to reserve a special aircrew from Scott AFB, Ill., to fly the plane to Hill. Pilots from the 151st ARW are no longer qualified to fly the "E" models anymore.

"Our unit is one of two in the country that maintains an E-Model qualification," said Lt. Col. Jim Pauling, a pilot with the 126th ARW at Scott AFB. "We stay current on them to deliver them to museums and places like the "boneyard" at Davis Monthan."

The 151st ARW has been flying the Stratotanker since 1978, but the aircraft has undergone several engine modification programs during its tenure. The E-model engine modification program started in the early 80's and 157 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve tankers eventually were re-engined with the Pratt and Whitney TF-33-PW-102 turbofan. The modification was a major improvement over the previous A-model engine.

"Senator Jake Garn was the principal legislator to propose the idea of using surplus Boeing 707 engines and putting them on the KC-135. The Air National Guard sent one of the first two re-engined aircraft here to Utah," said Col. Kelvin Findlay, 151st ARW commander. A command pilot, Colonel Findlay has more than 6,000 hours in the KC-135, with more than 5,000 hours in the E-model.

Col. Ron Blunck, commander of the 151st Maintenance Group, served as both an enlisted crew chief and later a navigator KC-135s.

"The E-model modification was a far-sighted and cost-effective decision by the ANG," he said. "The E-model's performance was a vast leap forward from the A-model, and was a workhorse for the ANG and Air Force Reserve for over 20 years. We could carry heavier fuel loads, and could stop on very short runways with the reverse thrust.

"The E-model was a very capable aircraft and would still be viable today, but the engines are no longer supported," he said.

In addition to being able to offload more fuel, the E-model was 14 percent more fuel efficient than the KC-135A, allowing greater range for the tanker fleet.

The 151st ARW converted to the newest version of the KC-135, designated the R-model, in late 2005. The unit then began the process of transferring the outdated E-models to other ANG units still flying that model, or to the aircraft "boneyard" facility at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Ariz.