First Air Force KC-10 Tanker Retired, Sent to the Boneyard

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A KC-10 Extender receives a water salute at a July 13, 2020 ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
A KC-10 Extender receives a water salute at a July 13, 2020 ceremony at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., that marked the first retirement of 59 Extenders intended for eventual replacement by the KC-46A Pegasus. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt Sean Evans)

The U.S. Air Force's first KC-10 Extender has officially received its retirement papers and headed to the Boneyard.

The service last week retired a tanker from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, with more than 33,000 flight hours and at least 30 years of service, according to a news release. Nearly 23,000 aircrew members and maintainers supported the aircraft during its lifetime, and the aircraft refueled more than 125,000 aircraft from 25 different countries over its career, officials said.

"This aircraft, like all the aircraft in our KC-10 fleet, has served honorably and provided life-saving fuel to warfighters executing global reach," Col. Scott Wiederholt, 305th Air Mobility Wing commander, said in a statement. Airmen from the 305th and 514th Air Mobility Wings at the base have used the aircraft, the release said.

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The aircraft is the first to retire of three serving in backup status, known as Backup Aircraft Inventory (BAI). The three aircraft were previously slated for retirement with congressional approvals in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the release said.

The tanker, tail number 86-0036, first entered service at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, in December 1986, according to the 305th's historian Stuart Lockhart. It participated in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, was later relocated to Travis Air Force Base, California, and eventually found its permanent home at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in 1997, Lockhart said.

Airmen from the 305th and 514th "enabled the strategic effects of combatant commanders, extended the powerful reach of the National Command Authorities and enabled soldiers and Marines in enemy contact a safe haven as KC-10s refueled their air support and air cover overhead," added Col. Thomas Pemberton, commander of the 514th Air Mobility Wing.

The aircraft will now be used for spare parts while assigned to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, the release said.

Air Force plans call for the steady retirement of its aging tankers in favor of the KC-46 Pegasus, despite continuing technical issues with the new aircraft.

In its 2021 budget request, the Air Force proposed retiring 13 KC-135 Stratotankers and 16 KC-10 refuelers. However, in both the Senate and House markups of the FY21 NDAA legislation, lawmakers have pushed back the divestment of some legacy tankers.

Lawmakers last month set a minimum requirement of KC-10s: The Air Force must maintain 50 primary mission KC-10A aircraft in fiscal 2021; 38 in fiscal 2022; and 26 in fiscal 2023, according to both House and Senate legislation. The Air Force currently has 59 KC-10s, 56 of which are considered primary mission tankers.

Last week's retirement brings the total aircraft inventory to 58 Extenders.

Meanwhile, issues with the KC-46 remain -- chief among them a glitch in the aircraft's Remote Vision System (RVS) software. The Air Force continues to work with Boeing Co. to fix the troubled tanker, which was first delivered in January 2019 despite that problem.

The service anticipates a 2023-2024 timeframe to have a fix in place for the system, which doesn't allow an airman to look at a clear, aligned visual of the boom connecting to another aircraft.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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