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COMMENTARY: Three generations of flying the KC-135

  • Published
  • By Maj. Ryan Garlow
  • 91st Air Refueling Squadron Commander

The military version of the Boeing 707, known as the KC-135 has had many versions and upgrades since it first came off the manufacturing line 60 years ago.

The KC-135 has been a part of the Air Force for 90 percent of its 69 year history and in my humble opinion has been the glue of the Air Force. 

The aircraft has touched nearly every mission and aspect of the Air Force that I can think of, which is only part of the reason I love the KC-135 as much as I do. 

The second and most personal reason is that I am the third generation of my family to be qualified in a variant of the KC-135. My Grandfather finished his last six years as a KC-135A navigator stationed between Larson Air Force Base (AFB), March AFB, and Amarillo AFB as part of Strategic Air Command. He also flew combat missions in Vietnam earning an Air Medal in the process.

My Dad followed suit, and after being an Electronic Warfare Officer in the B-52, he went on to fly the KC-135 at Test Pilot School, qualifying in tail 60-0377 which served as the B-2 Avionics test bed for the B-2 test program. 

With a lifetime of Air Force flying heritage before my eyes there was nothing else I could see myself doing but following in their proud footsteps.

So of course, when I graduated pilot training I put the KC-135 at the top of my list and I was lucky enough to be assigned to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England and have stuck with the KC-135 since. 

While I do not have a list of the tails my grandfather flew, I have no doubt that we have flown in the same tail on multiple occasions, a legacy I am proud of. 

Just as the KC-135 is as much a part of my family legacy, I believe this aircraft will continue to be the critical piece of the Air Force that enables us to bring the full effect of the Air Force’s capability to anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice and I am proud to know that I get to lead that charge with three generations of experience behind me!