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Remembering a 50-year-old friend

Tech. Sgt. Justin Frasche is the lead crew chief of the "Superbee", a KC-135 R model refueling aircraft that recently turned 50 years old.  The venerable KC-135 rolled off the assembly line in 1958 and has participated in every major conflict the United States has been involved in since.  The plane is projected to fly well past it's 75 birthday.
U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Burke Baker

Tech. Sgt. Justin Frasche is the lead crew chief of the "Super Bee", a KC-135 R model refueling aircraft that recently turned 50 years old. The venerable KC-135 rolled off the assembly line in 1958 and has participated in every major conflict the United States has been involved in since. The plane is projected to fly well past it's 75th birthday. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Burke Baker

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- The date November 12, 2008 probably didn't mean much to most people. It was probably considered just another day to many. However, this particular date was a special one to the men and women of the 151st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

On this day, aircraft 57-1499 turned 50 years old.

Aircraft 57-1499 rolled out of the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash. on October 17, 1958. Its first flight was November 12, 1958 and was delivered and flown to the 913th Air Reserve Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, Strategic Air Command, on November 26, 1958.

A total of 820 aircraft were manufactured with 732 of these being KC-135A models. In fact, as a testament to the original design, the Air Force took delivery of KC-135s from April 30, 1957, to January 6, 1966, without a major change in configuration, and only a few engineering change proposals. Currently, there are only 411 "R" model tankers left, with 254 belonging to the active duty Air Force, and 157 belonging to various Reserve and Guard components.

Aircraft 1499, dubbed "Super Bee", is devotedly maintained by Staff Sgt. Robert McFadden and me who work hard to sustain the aircraft's flying status. The Super Bee has had a long, distinguished career to date. It has been assigned to many of the great SAC bases, including Barksdale Air Force Base, Kadena AFB, Eielson AFB, McConnell AFB, Mather AFB, Castle AFB, Plattsburgh AFB, Loring AFB, Fairchild AFB, Mildenhall AB, Grand Forks AFB, and of course, its current location with the 151st Air Refueling Wing.

This aircraft will forever be remembered in infamy for a mission that took place on May 6, 1987. During a local flying sortie out of Castle AFB, the nose landing gear would not extend on approach and 1499 had to make a crash landing at Edwards AFB with only the main landing gears. The aircraft was repaired and has since been modified to the KC-135R configuration.

The Super Bee has served in many operations throughout its history. Some highlights include: Cold War alerts in SAC; Vietnam War air operations such as Arc Light, Commando Hunt and Linebacker I& II; Urgent Fury in Grenada; Just Cause in Panama; El Dorado Canyon in Libya; Earnest Will in the Persian Gulf; Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Southwest Asia; Allied Force (Kosovo) in the Balkans; Northern Watch and Southern Watch in Southwest Asia; Noble Eagle air defense of the United States; Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as the global war on terrorism worldwide.

Even though 1499 is 50 now, it still performs its mission as well as it did when it rolled out of the factory in 1958. In fact, upgrades such as the new CFM-56 engines and a Collins avionics suite including global positional system, enhanced instrument navigation system, weather radar and a glass cockpit make it more capable than ever. With all of the current modifications, the KC-135's life is extended to the year 2040 or about 40,000 total flight hours. Currently, the flight hours on 1499 are around 18,500, which is well below the average of around 21,000 fleet-wide.

There are no shortages of impressive statistics and facts that document the outstanding performance of the KC-135. It can carry 200,000 pounds of fuel and can fly for 20 hours without refueling. Six thousand pounds of fuel a minute can be off-loaded. To put this in perspective, an average car can run on the same amount of fuel a KC-135 dispenses in just one minute, for a year. It is difficult to believe the U.S. military operates 50-year-old aircraft, but they do...every day, 24/7. The KC-135 is the U.S. Air Force's primary in-flight refueling tanker, and also happens to be one of its most valuable tools - no one flies anywhere without gas, and the KC-135 has 30,000 gallons of what everybody needs.

Aircraft 57-1499 -- Viet Nam hero, cold war relic, and modern-day warrior; 50 years young and with its crews still standing watch in defense of our country. Happy birthday old friend and many, many more!