MacDill details KC-135, “Spirit of Tampa Bay”

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Scott Warner
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Paintings and artwork immortalized on the nose of an aircraft have been a part of military heritage dating back more than 100 years.

Each artwork is different, sometimes representing an extravagant squadron insignia, an old-fashioned “pin-up” girl, or can even be a beast-like creature. These artworks began with a practical reason of identifying friendly units, but later evolved into something able to evoke memories of peaceful times, of home and could serve as a form of morale and espirit de corps.

For MacDill Air Force Base, the 6th Maintenance Group (MXG) unveiled a new look to the wing’s KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft during a nose art ceremony, May 3.
In attendance were Tampa Bay civic leaders and honorary commanders, 6th MXG and 6th Air Refueling Wing senior leadership officials, local news agencies and various military services members from around base to witness the 6th ARW KC-135 receive a facelift.

“Being able to design the nose art for the wing jet was a dream come true,” said 2nd Lt. Kate Randall, the 6th Maintenance Squadron accessories flight commander. “I couldn’t be happier with how this event went and I’m so glad we were able to share the story with our civic leaders and the entire Tampa Bay area.”

The wing jet is an aircraft that is designated by the 6th ARW to be displayed for all public showings on base, base tours or when any distinguished visitors come to MacDill. It is the aircraft that people of Tampa Bay know best.

The nose artwork depicts a caricature of a KC-135 and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge behind the aircraft. Additionally, it has a few choice words written on the nose art: “Spirit of Tampa Bay.”

It only seems fitting that the wing jet would bare a nose art forever tying it to its home community and area in which it serves – Tampa Bay.

“I hope when people see the nose art, they understand how much pride our maintainers take in the product they turn out,” said Randall. “It takes an incredible team and an enormous effort to get a single jet off the ground for just one flight.”

Randall also spoke about how the artwork fosters a stronger relationship between the community and its service members. It also serves as a symbol of morale for Airmen and civilians alike, for every time someone from the community sees this nose art flying above them, they can feel like they had a contribution in what these Airmen do.

“Civic leaders and civilian partners are crucial to the success of our base,” said Randall. “Everyone had a role in this process, even our community with their continued support and dedication, and we are extremely grateful.”

It was a joyous occasion and the event was highlighted with a keynote speech by the 6th MXG commander, Col. Bert Adams, as well as the 6th ARW commander, Col. Benjamin Jonsson.

Afterwards, distinguished guests were able to take pictures of the new nose artwork with family and friends.

“Unless someone is directly involved in the maintenance world, they will never witness what happens behind the scenes 24/7, 365 days a year,” said Randall. “The nose art is a way to say ‘that’s our jet;’ ‘our’ meaning the maintainers, pilots, MacDill’s as well as the community’s.”

Despite the hardships this community has felt due to COVID-19, Tampa Bay has still experienced many triumphs and successes this past year:

The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl.

The Tampa Bay Rays were just two wins away from winning the World Series.

Every single Tampa Bay professional sports team went to the big dance and in just a year’s time, Tampa Bay became nationally known for being the home of championship-caliber teams. So much so, that even adopted a new nickname, "Champa Bay".

Yet, this nose art pays homage to the spirit of Tampa’s other championship-caliber team: the 6th ARW.

During last year’s Air Mobility Command’s Commander-in-Chief Installation Excellence annual award season, the 6th ARW at MacDill AFB finished as a nomination for one of the highest awards an installation can achieve.

“This base has selfless Airmen who work tirelessly to get the mission done,” said Senior Master Sgt. Walt MacKenzie, the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent and a co-designer of the “Spirit of Tampa Bay” nose art. “I’m proud of the work I see these Airmen do day in and day out and to be a part of a professional team that conducts themselves in such a dedicated and steadfast manner.”

The 6th ARW can be somewhat like a professional sports team in the sense that in order to be successful, it takes a relentless and consistent around-the-clock determination to accomplish the mission.

Much like a sports team, it isn’t just one player or one outstanding Airman that makes a championship-level or award winning team, but a conglomerate multi-level group effort that goes far beyond what most will ever see. It’s the behind the scenes grind, the drive to overcome adversity and the resilience necessary to meet those daily challenges that ultimately makes a team worth recognition.

That’s the legacy of honor it embodies, the tradition and heritage it respects and ultimately, that’s the spirit in which Airmen conduct themselves when they are a part of the MacDill AFB and Tampa Bay community.