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September 25, 2009—A Maine Air National Guard team on Sept. 23, 2009, flew the last of the Air Force's E model KC-135 tankers from the 101st Air Refueling Wing at Bangor to Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., where the 50-plus-year-old aircraft will serve as a parts supplier for the slightly younger Eisenhower-era tankers—upgraded R/T models—remaining in the fleet.

Aircraft No. 56-3630 has spent the past 20 years with the Maine Air Guard, and, in its heyday, it set a speed record, flying from New York to London and back in 12 hours.

As the Air Force moves out with a new KC-X procurement effort to begin replacing KC-135Rs, 74 of the E model tankers will be in storage at the "boneyard" of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Aircraft  Regeneration Group, whose technicians could restore the aircraft to service, if necessary. Others will be stripped of parts, as needed; 10 will serve as static displays; and three will be ground instructional trainers.

Col. John Thomas, commander of ANG's 101st Maintenance Group, said of No. 3630: "We are proud of the heritage of this aircraft. This aircraft was delivered to the active duty in 1958 and has served through the Cold War, went to Vietnam a couple of times, and served in the current contingencies."

USAF began retiring the E models, which were built from 1956 to 1961, in 2004, and, according to Douglas Williams, Air Vehicle Distribution Officer with the 827th Aircraft Sustainment Group at Tinker AFB, Okla., they each had amassed more than 18,000 flying hours.

Col. Robert Torick, who leads the 827th ASG which has overseen the five-year retirement effort, called Sept. 23 a "bittersweet day" on which airmen "say goodbye to a real workhorse."

While No. 3630 will not fly again, it could serve "another 15 to 20 years as we harvest parts off it," explained Col. Tom Schneider, 309th AMARG commander. He added, "We are going to put this aircraft to good use," largely because of the hard work of airmen in sustaining aging aircraft.

Schneider said, "It's just amazing how our maintainers keep these aircraft flying for so long."

Davis-Monthan report by SSgt. Tim Beckham

Tinker report by Howdy Stout