Former KC-135 crew chief explains how he was able to log 10,000 Flying Hours in the Stratotanker

By Dario Leone
Mar 10 2024
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The KC-135 Stratotanker

The Boeing Company’s model 367-80 was the basic design for the commercial 707 passenger plane as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker. The KC-135 replaced the propeller-powered KC-97 tankers, which could no longer keep up with the jet fighters and bombers.

In 1954, the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 732-plane fleet. In 1956, when the first KC-135 — nicknamed “The City of Renton” — rolled out of the plant, it shared the Renton tarmac with the last KC-97, providing a vivid picture of The Boeing Company’s complete conversion to jet power.

The initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base (AFB), Calif., on Jun. 28, 1957.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bobby McCasland, a former crew chief, was part of the crew that picked up the first aircraft, tail number 55-3127, from Larson Air Force Base (AFB), Washington, and delivered it to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron at Castle Air Force Base AFB, California.

McCasland, who spent 30 years in the Air Force, reminisced about the delivery of the first aircraft and his time working with KC-135s in the article Retired crew chief reminisces about 60 years of KC-135 airpower written by Airman Erin McClellan, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.

“Three airplanes came in that day, [tail numbers] 55-3127, 55-3128 and 55-3129,” said McCasland. “We were the first ones to land at Castle, and it was just a great time.”

The KC-135 crew chief who logged 10,000 Flying Hours in the Stratotanker

McCasland, who was trained on several different aircraft, said he was impressed by how easy the KC-135 was to maintain compared to the B-52 Stratofortress, which was the aircraft he was training on at the time of the arrival of the first Stratotanker.

USAF was in need of service members to complete the newly-enhanced air refueling mission, McCasland volunteered and set the path for the rest of his life.

“I just stayed with the [KC-135],” said McCasland. I probably had close to 10,000 [flying] hours my whole career.”

KC-135 Crew Chief
Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bobby McCasland, bottom right, a former crew chief, talks with crewmembers of the C-135 Stratolifter, tail number 55-3126, that was used to transport dignitaries under the command of then-Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay from 1957-1965. McCasland was part of the crew that delivered the Air Force’s first KC-135 Stratotanker in June 1957

Noteworthy, most of those flying hours came from the time McCasland spent as part of the crew of the KC-135 that then-Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay had moved to what is now Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The aircraft was used mainly to transport distinguished civilian and military leaders, but also for testing.

This Stratotanker, tail number 55-3126, was nicknamed City of Moses Lake, and its mission were the beginning of Project Speckled Trout, which has been the primary transport method for every Air Force chief of staff since then. It was the last test KC-135 and was identical to the first one delivered.

Operation Long Legs

Under LeMay, this aircraft broke two records as part of Operation Long Legs. The first was for a non-stop, non-refueled flight from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 11-12, 1957, and the second was a speed record, set the next day, from Buenos Aires to Washington, D.C.

“Gen. LeMay wanted us to try it out and see if we did better than the [Air Research and Development Command] did,” said McCasland. “We were on a 90-day test program, and he was happy with what we did, so we just stayed with him until he retired in 1965.”

After having been briefly stationed at Castle AFB, McCasland was assigned to Andrews AFB and then the 2762nd Materiel Squadron at Detachment 2 at Majors Army Airfield in Greenville, Texas, where he eventually retired. There, KC-135s were modified and tested.

Former crew chief heavily involved in the world of the KC-135 Stratotanker

However McCasland remained heavily involved in the world of KC-135s even after his retirement from USAF. In fact he worked at Det. 2 as a civilian in two different positions; a quality assurance position until 1987 and a U.S. Customs Service position until 1996.

In 2003, he was chosen to be a project engineer to build a modified KC-135. Once it was completed in 2007, this aircraft replaced the C-135 with tail number 61-2669, which was used for Project Speckled Trout at the time.

“I worked on the KC-135 and flew in it from the time it was built until I got out in 1980,” said McCasland. “My service time was very enjoyable. The KC-135 was and still is an awesome airplane.”

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Christopher Thornbury / U.S. Air Force

KC-135R Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. KC-135R Stratotanker 161st Air Refueling Wing, 197th Air Refueling Squadron “Copperheads”, 63-8038 – Arizona Air National Guard – Sky Harbor ANG Base, AZ

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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