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Tanker Tracker: a year in the life of 58-0011

KC-135 Stratotanker serial number 58-0011 sits in a hangar at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The tanker recently underwent some major upgrades before its current deployment. (Courtesy photo)

KC-135 Stratotanker serial number 58-0011 sits in a hangar at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. The tanker recently underwent some major upgrades before its current deployment. (Courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- (Editor's note: This is the first part of a series following the journey of Aircraft 58-0011, a KC-135 Stratotanker, leading up to the 60th anniversary of the KC-135's first flight in August 2016.)

Every aircraft has a story to be told. Whether its story is of missions completed over the homeland or supporting missions downrange, each one spreads global air support in its own way.

Aircraft 58-0011 is a KC-135R Stratotanker that was manufactured in 1958 and has been assigned here since July 1996.

Before its most recent deployment, Aircraft 58-0011 underwent some major upgrades that will extend the life of the plane.

"Once the KC-135 reaches 39,000 hours [of flight] it must be retired and sent to the boneyard," said Master Sgt. Ricardo Mendiola, 22nd Maintenance Group plans, scheduling and documentation section chief. "The Service Life Extension Program allows the [selected] aircraft to fly for an additional 21,000 hours."

Aircraft that qualify for the SLEP are sent to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to receive modifications. The program replaces major structural components and braces that equip each KC-135 with the ability to safely stay in the air, he explained.

Aircraft 58-0011 was selected for the SLEP, which will keep the plane in the fight for years to come, but routine inspections and regular maintenance also play a big role in keeping the aircraft in the sky.

"Depot-level maintenance is basically an inspection overhaul of the entire aircraft," said 1st Lt. Joseph Kraynak, 22nd MXG maintenance operations officer in charge. "The aircraft will get fully stripped and painted. There is also a thorough inspection on the major aircraft components and if needed, these components are replaced."

Each aircraft receives depot-level maintenance every five years, but 22nd MXG personnel perform day-to-day upkeep as well, said Kraynak.

"[Upgrades and routine maintenance] make sure that even though our airplane is really old, it can still function in a modern global air traffic world," said Tech. Sgt. Titus Jones, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron instruments and flight control systems technician.

With its recent SLEP upgrades and daily upkeep, Aircraft 58-0011 demonstrates the Air Force's commitment to global reach for decades to come.

This past August, the deployed aircraft has completed 11 sorties for a total of 101 flying hours and off-loaded a total of more than 230,000 pounds of fuel to 15 receiving aircraft.