ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- After more than 50 years of service and 22,500 flying hours, the first operational KC-135R Stratotanker retired from service, Feb. 21, 2013.
The aircraft made one last high-speed pass on the runway before heading to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., better known as the "Boneyard," where Air Force aircraft go to provide parts to satisfy critical supply needs without any major holds.
The aircraft, tail number 61-0312, first flew with the United States Air Force Aug. 14, 1962, and was re-engined June 27, 1985. The aircraft flew 15 sorties in January of 2013 alone.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 authorized the Force Structure Reduction of 16 KC-135 aircraft in the fleet.
The KC-135 Program Office at Tinker AFB, Okla., used the Fleet Health Analysis Tool to score each aircraft on various criteria such as number of flight hours, usage severity, fuselage/wing/fuel cell structural integrity, and due date for next programmed depot maintenance. The Air Force Strategic Basing Division identified 61-0312 as being ready to retire Feb. 19, 2013.
The 97th Air Mobility Wing's mission is "Forging Combat Mobility Forces ... deploying airman warriors," as the premier air mobility training location for KC-135R Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.
"[KC-135Rs] assigned to Altus Air Force Base fly approximately 1,820 sorties per fiscal year, which averages out to 91 sorties per aircraft," said Joey Dauzat, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-135R sortie generation flight chief. "Flight hours are approximately 7,030 hours per fiscal year, which averages out to 351 flight hours per aircraft. All sorties are required to have boomers on them, so every sortie flown is a boomer training sortie."
The retirement of 61-0312 is not expected to negatively affect the 97th AMW's mission.
"We have a sufficient number of KC-135Rs to support the flying requirements without 312," said Carl Martin, 97th MX deputy director of maintenance. "In fact, having one less tanker could prove to be beneficial as it will allow us to fly those remaining a little more often. Up to a certain point, KC-135Rs perform better when they fly more."
The retirement did affect several members assigned to the 97th MX.
"A number of A-TEAM members, including myself, were assigned to Altus Air Force Base as members of the 340th Air Refueling Wing in 1987 when the [KC-135] R models started arriving to replace the then assigned KC-135As," Martin said. "Maintainers tend to take pride in and become attached to the aircraft they maintain, so like a number of other A-TEAM members, seeing the first KC-135R being retired brings back many fond memories and a bit of sadness."
The 61-0312 is not meeting its end yet, however; for the next several years, it will be used to keep the KC-135 fleet and other Department of Defense aircraft flying by providing its parts, or will be placed in storage for potential reactivation if necessary.