The Gucci Farewell tour.
U.S. Air Force 9th Aerial Refuelling Squadron conducts worldwide farewell tour for the KC-10A Extender.
Article: Jaryd Stock.
Images: Jaryd Stock, Tim Bowrey, Stacy Yamanda, Seth Jaworski and Tim Ward
In January, the 9th Aerial Refuelling Squadron based at Tarivs Air Force Base, California took the lead and undertook an worldwide farewell tour of the McDonnell Douglas KC-10A Extender with the aircraft type set to be retired by the middle of the year.
Departing Travis AFB on January 8th for Hawaii the KC-10A with the serial 84-0191 with an 60th Air Mobility Wing/ Travis tail-flash Extender with 27 crew members from the 9th ARS and 79th ARS would stop first at Hickam AFB then onto the South Pacific leg of the tour stopping in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Departing Christchurch and with fine flying conditions over the Island of the long white cloud, the crew on board 84-0191 conducted a Visual Flight Rules (VFR) training flight over New Zealand. Once departing Christchurch the crew headed down the East Coast to the South of New Zealand’s South Island before making a U-turn heading up the spine of the country over Wellington and Hamilton before turning Left causing at 36,000 feet bound for Sydney.
Once reaching Sydney the crew working with directions given by Air Traffic Control at Sydney Tower conducted a missed approach for Runway 34 Left giving residents of the harbour city a chance to glance up and see the unique aircraft overhead heralding its arrival into their only stop in Australia.
In Sydney aviation enthusiasts outside and inside the airport lined the various vantage points around the terminals just to get a glimpse of the rare movement to their City, upon arrival in Sydney the crew onboard were able to get out to the fence line and hand out squadron swag to the young and not so young children- something that both crew and spectators enjoyed immensely.
And that is what the 9thARS wanted to convey on this tour, they loved showing off the aircraft that has been in service with the U.S. Air Force for more than 40 years. The bread and butter of the KC-10 is hauling cargo, troops and more importantly conducting inflight refuelling to aircraft over vast distances. And it has been a vital cog in the machine that is the Air Mobility Command especially with the tyranny of distance that is called the Pacific Ocean.
9thARS Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Baer talked with APD on the significance of this final KC-10A Extender worldwide tour.
“For over 40 years now the KC-10 has been seen around the world, defending freedom and serving the interests of America and its allies. And it has served with honour and distinction across the Atlantic, Europe, and Southeast Asia.”
“No matter where these aircraft fly, their unique tri-jet profile and American Flag emblazoned on the tail-flash is a symbol of hope for our partners and allies. So, as the KC-10 begins the final stages of her retirement, we thought it only fitting to send it on one more around-the-world mission, visiting historic KC-10 and USAF operating locations, demonstrating the global reach of the United States of America, and our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
“This is first and foremost an operational training mission. Our professional aircrews are tasked with moving cargo and passengers all over the world, and as expected, they have met success on this mission.”
Travis Air Force Base which is home to the 60th Air Mobility Wing based near San Francisco on Americas West Coast is the last base to operate the venerable aircraft, and that is no mistake either, these aircraft are what make fighter deployments across the vast Pacific Ocean possible- What a single KC-10A Extender can carry in fuel requires two KC-135R Stratotankers if they were tasked to truck fighters over those distances.
“The KC-10 brings a unique capability – an absolutely staggering quantity of fuel ready for offload. When that capacity is coupled to the aircraft’s long range, high speed, and sizeable cargo and passenger capacity, the KC-10’s benefits become clear”- Lt.Col Baer said.
“The aircraft can escort a group of receiver aircraft, with their maintenance personnel and spare parts, anywhere in the world without a supporting cargo aircraft. Even the vast expanses of the Indo-Pacific are no match for the capability of a fully fuelled KC-10. These capabilities have been demonstrated time and again throughout the Aircraft’s 40+ years of service, reliably escorting all types of American and Allied aircraft around the world.”
With various cities and airfields around the world that have previously been the base of operations for the Extender which is affectionally known as “Big Sexy” to her crews, how did the 9thARS decide on which of those places would be a stopping off point on this tour? Lt.Col Baer explains,
“The United States Air Force has a long history of professional and safe aircrews. We achieve that standard by consistently training our crews and developing our Airmen. Therefore, this mission was guided first and foremost by the mission requirements and training objectives, In fact this was primarily an operational training mission with instructors and students in all crew positions.”
“Once those tasks were identified and scheduled, the planning team then sought to select locations around the world with historic significance to the KC-10 and the United States Air Force.”
“The Extender has such a rich history that it was impossible to visit all the places where the plane has made an impact. With that in mind, we planned the mission to visit friends and allies around the globe while meeting the mission tasks and requirements, scheduling stops in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, throughout Europe, and beyond.”
During the planning stages of the tour which began months earlier the 9thARS and 79thARS which is the reserve aerial refuelling squadron based at Travis AFB got to work picking the crew that would represent the U.S. Air Force along with the Wing and Squadrons on the tour.
Lt.Col Baer stated “The 9th Air Refuelling Squadron, is the last active-duty KC-10 Squadron in the USAF. While other active-duty units (6thARS) still maintain some KC-10 capability, the 9th ARS is the only unit charged solely with operations in the KC-10. Therefore, it was natural that the 9th ARS took the lead on this mission.”
“The crew is comprised almost entirely of 9th ARS Airmen, with some augmentation from our Reserve partners in the 79th ARS. Additionally, the mission is carrying a small contingent of our professional maintainers from both the 660th and the 749th Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons. All onboard are proud to represent the United States Air Force and the KC-10 community as we engage with our partners and allies around the world.”
For the crews both past and present this aircraft holds a significant place in their hearts, if you ever meet a former crew member who was a pilot or boomer onboard the 10 they will tell you that they absolutely loved flying this aircraft and working alongside their fellow crew members conducting various operations around the world. Asked on what he will miss most about flying the KC-10 Extender Lt.Col Andrew Baer said this.
“The KC-10 is a wonderful airplane, we will all miss the jet’s speed, capability, and dependability. There is just something magical about firing up those three giant CF-6 engines, rolling out those huge flaps and slats, and taking flight in some of the world’s last DC-10 variants.”
“But what I think we’ll all miss most is the community of professional aircrew and support personnel who make this jet fly. Whether Reservist or Active Duty, whether aircrew or maintainer, the personnel who operate, maintain, and support the KC-10 are a tight-knit group who have a long history together in the KC-10 Extender.”
“As we look back on and appreciate the legendary history of the KC-10, I look forward to creating the same sense of community and tradition as the 9th ARS begins the conversion to our new aircraft the KC-46A Pegasus.”
During the tour the aircraft experienced a slight setback in Sydney which had to extend its stay a day or two, but the aircraft departed for Diego Garcia. When departing Sydney again well over 300 people at various vantage points around the airport came out to witness the aircraft depart.
The crew onboard taxied out from their parking bay to the spotting area at Sydney Airport known as Sheps Mound, once reaching the mound the crew were given permission by ATC to stop and wave to those who had gathered to witness the possibly last movement of a DC-10 variant aircraft to Sydney.
The crew then proceeded to give spotters the chance of seeing the surface control panels on the aircrafts horizontal and vertical stabilisers move with the crew doing a few roll overs of the control stick, which was greatly appreciated by those watching on.
After taxiing down to Runway 34 Left the crew spooled up the engines and departed Sydney for the last time.
Once rotation was complete Sydney Air Traffic Control had organised something special for the KC-10 crew allowing them to instead of making the usual left turn out to the North West of the city, gave the crew a send off by vectoring them right off 34L to conduct a 3000 feet flyby of Sydney Harbour and the City skyline giving the crew a nice send off into retirement, then back around conducting a flyby of the Airport bound for the Indian Ocean.
The tour took in 9 locations scattered throughout the world firstly stopping off as mentioned Hawaii then Christchurch and Sydney then onto Diego Garcia, from there it went to the Italian Air Force Base Sigonella in Sicily, then onto Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Keflavik in Iceland. Once departing Iceland the crew went back to McGuire Dix-Lakehurst AFB in New Jersey which is home to the 305th Air Mobility Wing and has just replaced KC-10 operations with the KC-46 as of 2023.
With the crew returning to Travis AFB, it finally marks the sunset of the KC-10 Extender in USAF operations which as mentioned is slated for middle of the 2024, this tour brought an emotional response to the crews still flying the aircraft as it had hit home, especially with the live coverage in Sydney of the aircrafts arrival and departure by Youtube vloggers SydSquad. They knew this moment was finally the realisation that the aircraft they have loved operating on so much is being retired.
This article couldn’t have been possible without the help of the 60thAMW Public Affairs team, the 27 crew members from the 9th and 79thARS 660th and 749thAMX squadrons as well as Lt.Col Andrew Baer- to all we thank you for the privilege of covering this special occasion.