9th Air Refueling Squadron retires flagship KC-10 Extender

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Traci Keller
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – As the U.S. Air Force continues to downsize its fleet of KC-10 Extender aircraft, the 60th Air Mobility Wing -- the last active-duty wing to operate the aircraft -- said farewell to one particularly special tail. 

An aircrew with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron flew the tanker, with tail number 79-1946, January 11 from Travis AFB to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, home of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), often referred to as “The Boneyard.” It is where the Air Force and other federal agencies maintain open-air storage and preservation of their aircraft. 

The jet making this journey was considered unique for the 9th ARS, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Baer, 9th ARS commander and KC-10 pilot. 

“What’s so awesome is this airplane has a long history,” said Baer. “It was in (Operations) Urgent Fury, Enduring Freedom, Allies Refuge, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve… you name it, this jet has seen it.” 

The term “flagship” dates back centuries ago and traditionally referred to the ship that carried the commander of a naval fleet, deeming it most important.  

According to Baer, their own research indicates the jet was the seventh KC-10 delivered to the Air Force from McDonnell-Douglas, a once major Department of Defense contractor, in 1982. The Extender was assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at then active-duty March AFB, California, where two air refueling squadrons operated it. Following a base realignment and closure implementation, Air Mobility Command began the relocation of 17 of those tankers to Travis in the fall of 1994 and 79-1946 was delivered the following year.  

“This tail is unique because of the nose art it wore back in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Baer.  “When this airplane was delivered, it was what we call a ‘blue and white.’ It had a blue and white paint scheme when it flew for Strategic Air Command, and through a lot of work -- a lot of research -- we have found photos of this aircraft from all those years ago wearing its nose art and its nose art was the 9th Air Refueling Squadron’s patch.” 

Since that time, it has been flown by the 6th and 9th ARS as well as the 349th AMW’s reserve air refueling squadrons, the 70th and 79th ARS, making Travis the Air Force’s western hub for air refueling operations. 

As the mission commander taking the aircraft to Davis-Monthan AFB, U.S. Air Force Capt. Clark Albers, 9th ARS KC-10 Extender pilot, said he was especially humbled. 

“It was an incredible honor to be able to mission command a KC-10 retirement, especially the original flagship of the 9th Air Refueling Squadron,” said Albers. “I was looking through my logbook and I’ve flown (tail number) 1946 nine different times now, including my initial aircraft commander check ride and five times while deployed.” 

“I could not have asked for a better aircraft and community other than KC-10 to start my operational career in the Air Force,” said Albers. “It really is a sobering moment knowing these aircraft, after more than 40 tremendous years of service, will more than likely never see the skies again after landing at Davis-Monthan.” 

The 60th AMW will continue to send its remaining KC-10s to “The Boneyard” through the rest of the fiscal year. After that, both 6th and 9th ARS will exclusively fly the KC-46A Pegasus to support Air Mobility Command’s aerial refueling operations worldwide.