Retired crew chief reminisces about 60 years of KC-135 airpower

  • Published
  • By Airman Erin McClellan
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
On June 28, 1957, the Air Force received its first KC-135 Stratotankers.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bobby McCasland, a former crew chief, was part of the crew that picked up the first aircraft, tail number 55-3127, from Larson Air Force Base, Washington, and delivered it to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron at Castle AFB, California.

Most of McCasland’s life was spent intertwined with KC-135s. Because of his connection to the aircraft, he attended the 50th anniversary of the tanker at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and also made the trip from his home in Texas to watch it turn 60 here.

McCasland, who spent 30 years in the Air Force, reminisced about the delivery of the first aircraft and his time working with KC-135s.

“Three airplanes came in that day, [tail numbers] 55-3127, 55-3128 and 55-3129,” said McCasland. “We were the first ones to land at Castle, and it was just a great time.”

McCasland was trained on several different aircraft, and was introduced to the KC-135 while it was still being built. He said he was impressed by how easy the aircraft was to maintain compared to the B-52 Stratofortress, which was the aircraft he was training on at the time.

The Air Force was in need of service members to complete the newly-enhanced air refueling mission. McCasland volunteered, and set the path for the rest of his life.

“I just stayed with the [KC-135],” said McCasland. I probably had close to 10,000 [flying] hours my whole career,”

Most of those flying hours came from the time McCasland spent as part of the crew of the KC-135 that then-Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Curtis E. LeMay had moved to what is now Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. It was used mainly to transport distinguished civilian and military leaders, but also for testing.

This aircraft, tail number 55-3126, nicknamed City of Moses Lake, and its mission were the beginning of Project Speckled Trout, which has been the primary transport method for every Air Force chief of staff since then. It was the last test KC-135 and was identical to the first one delivered.

Under LeMay, this aircraft broke two records as part of Operation Long Legs. The first was for a non-stop, non-refueled flight from Westover AFB, Massachusetts, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 11-12, 1957, and the second was a speed record, set the next day, from Buenos Aires to Washington, D.C.

“Gen. LeMay wanted us to try it out and see if we did better than the [Air Research and Development Command] did,” said McCasland. “We were on a 90-day test program, and he was happy with what we did, so we just stayed with him until he retired in 1965.”

McCasland was briefly stationed at Castle AFB, but was later assigned to Andrews AFB and then the 2762nd Materiel Squadron at Detachment 2 at Majors Army Airfield in Greenville, Texas, where he eventually retired. There, KC-135s were modified and tested.

Even after McCasland retired from the Air Force, he was still heavily involved in the world of KC-135s. He worked at Det. 2 as a civilian in two different positions; a quality assurance position until 1987 and a U.S. Customs Service position until 1996.

In 2003, he was chosen to be a project engineer to build a modified KC-135. Once it was completed in 2007, this aircraft replaced the C-135 with tail number 61-2669, which was used for Project Speckled Trout at the time.

“I worked on the KC-135 and flew in it from the time it was built until I got out in 1980,” said McCasland. “My service time was very enjoyable. The KC-135 was and still is an awesome airplane.”