July 2023 will mark 43 years of service for the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender and its inaugural flight. The following year in 1981, the U.S. Air Force received delivery of this magnificent airframe at Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. In March of this year, the 70th Air Refueling Squadron filed a final flight plan for ORCA01, a KC-10A Extender, know as 1951 by her crew. The Reserve Airmen were flying this awesome tanker to her final resting place at Davis-Monthan Air Force, AZ. The Air Force has operated a total of 59 KC-10A Extenders. It has been a key asset in mission readiness and with able success. McDonnell Douglas designed the DC-10 for commercial use but modified the components to make the KC-10A Extender a highly capable refueler. The military version included military avionics, six additional tanks were added to support 356,000 pounds of fuel, and advanced satellite communications installed. A refueling boom or drogue and hose system can used to fuel aircraft in flight.
Lt. Col. Judson Darrow, 349th Operations Group deputy commander at Travis AFB, commented on the overall experience of flying the soon to be retired aircraft. “The final flight of 79-1951 was very special to me. It was also my last mission with the 70th ARS and flying the KC-10 before I retire this year. I have flown the “10” for 20 years and have been part of the squadron for 17 of those years. To fly the last mission of this amazing aircraft with a great crew from throughout the KC-10 community was a perfect ending to my Air Force career,” said Darrow.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Hinton, boom operator, 70th superintendent at Travis AFB, has been flying here for 26 years. “She is one of the last to go and it’s really sad. “It used to be painted white and blue, and it carried distinguished visitors in it. Then came 1998 and now it has the gray paint scheme. Tail 91951 has been a test aircraft for over 40 years. She has been a great work horse for the Air Force,” said Hinton.
The working relationship between the 70th ARS and 418th FLTS gives the flight tests the capability of the warfighter so when they are called upon the Airmen are ready to execute the mission. Building these relationships will continue as the 70th ARS moves to the new KC-46A Pegasus. The information flow, back and forth, will display data the refueling squadrons see operationally, and show the flight test squadron the developmental testing statistics. The U.S. Air Force flying mission would come to a full stop without the support of refueling tankers. The new KC-46A Pegasus will need to aim higher to outperform its predecessor. Time and mission demands will determine facts. Air refueling operation flight test personnel’s front line of information is to forge strong relationships with the pilots, flight engineers, and crews when the KC-46A arrives on station. Ironically, July 2023 is the expected arrival month for the KC-46A Pegasus, and the last KC-10A Extender will be retired in September 2024.
The McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender is an American tanker aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). A military version of the three-engine DC-10 airliner, the KC-10 was developed from the Advanced Tanker Cargo Aircraft Program. It incorporates military-specific equipment for its primary roles of aerial refueling and transport. It was developed to supplement the KC-135 Stratotanker following experiences in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The KC-10 was the second McDonnell Douglas transport aircraft to be selected by the Air Force following the C-9. A total of 60 KC-10s were produced for the USAF. The Royal Netherlands Air Force operated two similar tankers designated KDC-10 that were converted from DC-10s. The KC-10 plays a key role in the mobilization of US military assets, taking part in overseas operations far from home. These aircraft performed airlift and aerial refueling during the 1986 bombing of Libya (Operation Eldorado Canyon), the 1990–91 Gulf War with Iraq (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm), the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (Operation Allied Force), War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom), and Iraq War (Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn).