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Final KC-135E retires at Davis-Monthan

It was an historical day on the flight line at D-M Sept. 23, as the last KC-135E model touched down after its final flight. The aircraft that served the Air Force for more than 50 years will now spend its days basking in the sun in the ‘Boneyard’ and providing much needed parts to the rest of the fleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

The last KC-135E taxis after its final flight Sept. 23, 2009, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The aircraft is now headed to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, where it will supply parts to other KC-135 models still in operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Col. John Thomas signs a KC-135 aircraft Sept. 23, after the aircraft landed on Davis-Monthan, where it will now go to retire after more than 50 years of active service. Colonel Thomas is the 101st Maintenance Group commander in the Maine Air National Guard, where the plane has spent the last two decades. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

Col. John Thomas signs a KC-135E aircraft Sept. 23, 2007, after the aircraft completed its final flight at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. The E-model is retiring after more than 50 years of active service. Colonel Thomas is the 101st Maintenance Group commander in the Maine Air National Guard, where the aircraft has spent the last two decades. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman Jerilyn Quintanilla)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- It was a historical day on the flightline here Sept. 23, as the last KC-135E model touched down after its final flight. 

The aircraft, which served the Air Force for more than 50 years, will now spend its days basking in the sun in the 'Boneyard' and providing much needed parts to the rest of the fleet.

While the aircraft, with tail number 56-3630, only spent the last couple of decades with the Maine Air National Guard, it has long played a vital role in air superiority for the United States.

"We are proud of the heritage of this aircraft," said Col. John Thomas, commander of the 101st Maintenance Group, Maine ANG. "This airplane was delivered to active duty in 1958, has served through the Cold War, went to Vietnam a couple of times and served in current contingencies."

This aircraft not only served in many operations, but it also set a speed record in the 1950s by flying from New York to London and back in only 12 hours, the colonel added. 

Ten of the E-model KC-135s are being preserved as static displays at various locations and three others are scheduled to be used as ground instructional trainers. But, for the operational Air Force, it's the end of an era as the service transitions to the new air-to-air refueling tanker, dubbed the KC-X.

"For the 827th Aircraft Sustainment Group, this is a bittersweet day," said Col. Robert Torick, 827th ACSG commander and project officer for the KC-135E retirement. "While we close this chapter, the air refueling mission story continues. We say goodbye to a real workhorse who has played a critical role in the success of the Air Force mission over the last 50-plus years."

Even though this aircraft is now officially retired, the E-model will still play a role in keeping other KC-135 models in the air.

"It (the aircraft) may be here for another 15 to 20 years as we harvest parts off it," said Col. Tom Schneider, 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group commander. "We are going to put this aircraft to good use. It will go into storage, which means it will be eligible for parts withdrawal to keep the rest of the fleet flying."

Colonel Schneider said the reason the aircraft that come to AMARG still play an important role after retirement is due to the quality of their upkeep.

"Generations of Airmen have gone to war with this aircraft," he said. "It's just amazing how our maintainers keep these aircraft flying for so long."

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