The 916th's First Tail In & Last Tail Out

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary McKnight
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing

Present and past members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing gathered to say goodbye to the last of their KC-135 Stratotanker fleet in a ceremony held at 3:00 p.m. in the 916 ARW fuel cell hangar.

The journey of the 916 ARW and the KC-135 began October 1, 1995, when aircraft 349 touched down on the flightline here, making the 916 ARW and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base its home for the past 24 years.

Aircraft 349 arriving on station signaled the true beginning of a new era, said Col. Christopher C. Holland, 916th Operations Group commander.

What an era that turned out to be.

“The KC-135R, 349 in particular, has had a very long and definitive life,” said Stephen K. Beckett, the 916th Air Refueling Wing historian. “To date, the aircraft is 58 years and 8 months old. In that time, it has made countless contacts, passed an unknown amount of fuel, and kept innumerable aircraft in the fight. Over the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Europe, it has served flawlessly. Its reliability, proven by time, is a testament to quality of both the design, and the personnel that have cared for her.”

Simply put.

“It’s a good ole airplane,” said 66-year-old, retired Master Sgt. Stephen J. Hawley, previous 916 ARW aerospace ground equipment repairman. “It’s in my age range and it still flies.”

True to the Air Force’s core value, of excellence in all we do, 349 has carried the 916th through our entire KC-135 era. Being the first aircraft to arrive during the conversion from the KC-10 Extender in 1995, to being the last aircraft with wheels up as we convert to the KC-46 Pegasus in 2020.

“We’re in the middle of our KC-135 divestment,” said Col. Stephen “Steve” Lanier the 916 ARW commander. “With 349 being our last aircraft here, preparing to receive our KC-46 aircraft, in addition to training our maintainers and aircrew, the state of the 916th is strong.”

Despite utilizing a new aircraft, the 916 ARW’s mission will remain as is, aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.

The KC-46 will pick up with 916 ARW where the KC-135 left off, providing greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuations capabilities.

I look back on our KC-135 history with great pride and admiration for the men and women of the 916th. The best thing about all of this change is that we have the opportunity to write our next chapter.  The people in this hangar and our friends currently in KC-46 training have pens in hand, already writing it, said Holland.