First Stratotanker inducted into the Air Force Museum > Air National Guard > Item display
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Crew members were on the verge of tears as they flew over Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on April 30, knowing their most expensive aircraft would be the first KC-135 Stratotanker inducted into the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
Downstairs, aviation enthusiasts from across the country congregated along the museum’s little-used runway. Captivated members of the public, many of whom had personal or family ties to the KC-135, waited to cheer the arrival of the Hawaii Air National Guard’s most historic aircraft and interact with tanker crews from the past. and of the present.
The Stratotanker, number 60-0329, has been an integral part of the 203 Air Refueling Squadron since 1993. But it also gained a more global reputation while in the care of its former stewards during the Vietnam War. It is recognized as the first refueling platform to be awarded the McKay Trophy in 1967, an honor reserved for airmen who demonstrate the highest levels of skill by performing the “most meritorious flight of the year”.
The 203rd ARS pilots at the helm descended for a crowd-pleasing low-level approach before looping in for a landing. The wheels touched down and the KC-135R slowly came to a stop; 0329’s career was finally over. With over six decades of operational service, the jet took only a moment to become a national artifact in the museum.
Lt. Col. Kelly Church, commander of the 203rd ARS, found himself at a loss for words as he killed the engines from the plane’s left driver’s seat. After a deep breath, he spoke the last words to be spoken through his comm system, ‘0329, thank you for your service.’ Church said the moment was heartbreaking for him and his team as they reflected on the countless lives and operations the aircraft had affected throughout its service.
In recognition of the last voyage of 0329, the crew was accompanied by senior leaders. Maj. Gen. Duke A. Pirak, deputy director of the Air National Guard, was in the flight deck booster seat, and the 154th Wing command team joined members of the critical maintenance team to the mission in the cabin.
As the last crew of 0329 shared an intimate bond with their treasured “tanker”, they were greeted by an entourage of veterans and family members whose livelihoods were also deeply tied to the historic aircraft.
But most notable of all were the guests of honor – the original crew members who won the McKay Trophy more than 50 years ago. Retired pilots Lt. Col. Richard Trail and Lt. Col. John Casteel and retired crew chief Senior Master Sgt. Jack Barnes is a legend in the Air Force tanker community for performing the world’s first three-level refueling procedure, which is said to have saved the lives of several US Navy pilots.
While conducting a wartime refueling in the Gulf of Tonkin in May 1967, the crew responded to a request for emergency refueling of six Navy aircraft: two A-3 Skywarriors, two F -8 Crusaders and two F-4 Phantoms.
While refueling one of the A-3s, one of the F-8s was critically low on fuel. The KC-135 guided the F-8 to the A-3’s refueling boom and chained a refueling process from the KC-135 to the A-3 and then to the F-8. The daring actions of the crew of the Stratotanker allowed all planes to return safely to their carriers.
“Being able to hang out with the McKay Trophy crew and see them get back to their plane was really something special,” Church said. “One of the first crew chiefs who worked on the jet in Thailand said he looked better than he did in 1968.”
Throughout the muster, Senior Master Sgt. Paul Foster, the 154th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief and the last crew member to disembark the plane in an operational capacity, spent most of his time alongside Barnes, discussing memories of the plane. Of all the “nooks and crannies” the two revisited, the two crew chiefs discovered that they both stored king crab and lobster in the same underbelly compartment, where the altitude kept the food. cool during their excursions.
“All those little things, especially the more technical ones, you never forget,” Barnes said. “Even though it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, I’m confident I can go through the preflight stages right now. It means a lot to me to see that it’s been in good hands all these years. He looks as smooth as ever.
Other than the paint scheme of the 0329, most components of the KC-135 remained unchanged for 60 years. The aircraft was marked with a specific star sticker on its rear flash after it was transferred to ANG from Hawaii in 1993. The “Hoku”, which means star in the Hawaiian language, represents the stars Polynesians would use as points benchmark for navigating the Pacific Ocean. Tanker 0329 was also given the nickname Kapea, one of many titles given to the constellation of the Southern Cross.
The National Museum of the US Air Force will keep the aircraft in its current form. In honor of the aircraft’s heritage, a legacy decal reading “Young Tiger Task Force” was permanently affixed to the nose, signifying its home unit and the air-to-air refueling precursors who answered their call aboard Tanker 0329.
Stratankers remain the most widely used air-to-air refueling platform in the US Air Force today. And with the induction of 0329, the tanker community is finally represented.
“Global reach means everything in the Air Force these days,” said Brig. Gen. Dann S. Carlson, 154th Wing Commander, at the induction ceremony. “And I can’t think of a more powerful example to show what global reach really is other than 0329. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to share this gift of Aloha with our country, and I hope that it will inspire a strong and resilient force for generations to come.”