Aviation History


Retired Sgt. Bobby McCasland, former KC-135 crew chief, was impressed by how easy the Stratotanker was to maintain compared to the B-52 Stratofortress

On Jun. 28, 1957, the first KC-135 Stratotanker was delivered to the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

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.”

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.”

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 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

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.

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.

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.”

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

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

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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.

View Comments

  • Great story. 55-3130 was delivered to Carswell AFB. I crewed it in 76 to 80. It was the oldest A model still flying in 1976. Agree on how much easier the tankers were to crew than the BUFFs. My roommate was a crew chief on the D model B52s and he would come back to the room with hydraulic fluid from the pac's and grease all over him. My fatigue's still had the crease in the pants. Great aircraft.

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