47 year reunion: man, metal

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Laura L. Valentine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
In 1965, the KC-135 Stratotanker 62-3498 was three years old and had logged close to 1,000 flying hours. In 1965, Airman 3rd Class Melvin Cline, aircraft maintenance crew chief, began his Air Force career working on that exact plane.

Fast-forward to May 31, 2012, and the tanker 62-3498 is assigned to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and has logged more than 23,000 flying hours. On May 31, Melvin Cline, Headquarters Air Force Office of Special Investigations director of base realignment and closure, retired after more than 47 years of federal service.

After nearly two years of searching for the plane that started his Air Force career, Cline located tail number 62-3498 and was given the opportunity to revisit it one last time.

"This is where, as a one-striper, I learned a lot," said Cline.

Cline and colleague, Richard Abboud, Headquarters Air Force Office of Special Investigations director of staff, made the trip to McConnell May 23 for the reunion of man and metal.

"This airplane is older than the people maintaining and flying it [today]," said Abboud. "I think it's kind of remarkable that here he is after 47 years of service, ending his career seeing and touching the same aircraft that he started his career on."

Cline spent the majority of his OSI career working counter-intelligence and special projects.

"It's been a long haul," said Cline of his two Air Force careers, "but I've always reflected back to this aircraft."

Cline was welcomed to McConnell by Airmen in the 22nd Maintenance Group who escorted him to the flightline to watch an aircraft launch and then a tour of Cline's first KC-135.

"We teach Airmen about how old these jets are," said Tech. Sgt. James Peak, 22nd Maintenance Group maintenance training instructor. "They are three times as old as most of our students. So being able to go out there with somebody that worked under the first crew chief for that jet is incredible, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

Although the KC-135 maintenance practices of 50 years ago have evolved in many ways, there are many which remain fundamentally the same. Cline impressed the current maintainers with the knowledge he still possessed pertaining to the plane.

It was neat seeing someone retaining all that information from 40 years ago. It was like he never left, said Tech. Sgt. Jason Geiger, 22nd MXG crew chief instructor.

Cline reminisced his old crew chief-ways as well as regaled his experiences of being on the KC-135 during his multiple excursions to the Far East during the Vietnam War.

"One of the best memories I have was when an F-105 [Thunderchief] came up and it was all shot up. We hooked up with the boom and you could just see the fuel pouring out the bottom of it," Cline said. "But, by us pumping fuel in, it was enough to keep him going, so he didn't have to bail out. We took him from Vietnam to Korat [Royal Thai Air Base,] and essentially all he did was glide down."

As many service members will say, the lessons learned as a junior enlisted Airmen are the ones that shaped them into the leaders they are now. The foundation that set up Cline for success throughout his federal careers was the foundation created while he was a young crew chief on 62-3498.

This is where I'm grounded ... with this airplane, said Cline.

"A lot of these new guys don't understand that what they are doing is making history. When Cline came in it was 1965 and now we get to look back and see the legacy of this aircraft," said Peak.

Since the aircraft was delivered from the manufacturer and Cline began his Air Force career, 62-3498 has been assigned to multiple installations and has been at war for more than two decades.

"He's been around the world in his job and this aircraft has been around the world doing its mission," said Peak. "Finally they come back together right before he retires."