Check wheels down one last time

  • Published
  • By Rossi D. Pedroza-Bertrand
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing

   July 2023 will mark 43 years of service for the 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, known as 1951 by her crew. The Reserve Airmen were flying this awesome tanker to her final resting place at Davis-Monthan Air Force, AZ.


 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,” said Hinton. “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.”

   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.

   “Tail 91951 has been a test aircraft for over 40 years. She has been a great work horse for the Air Force,” said Hinton.

   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.


Master Sgt. Matthew Giles is a test boom operator with the 418th Flight Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. “The test community is unique because we test airplanes across the Air Force,” said Giles.  “Edwards does not own any KC-10’s to test with, so we must reach out to the reserve units and come down here to complete our mission, which is air refueling certification for all receiver pairings”.

   Giles said it is unique working with the reservists because the 418th FLTS also does not carry a complete qualified KC-10A crew. “We interlace ourselves with the pilots and engineers, and we will send a test pilot and test engineer,” said Giles. “It becomes a rainbow of mixed crews, so it is a win-win for both. We get to fly the KC10 and complete our mission, plus work together with the reserve units to execute our air refueling mission.”


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.

   “It has been a privilege to work with the reserve unit, fly on the only KC-10A test bird, and put her to bed for the last time,” said Giles.


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 out perform 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. “Once the squadrons get new airplanes, we will do a lot of KC-46A testing at Edwards. This is where we will get to see different things that may come up,” said Giles.

   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,” said Darrow. “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”.

   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.

   Hinton said, “I have been flying on this aircraft for a long time. But it’s good to have closure as the new planes come in, so we can train and be ready now and learn new capabilities.