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50th Anniversary of the KC-135 Stratotanker

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- Celebrating their 50th birthdays this year are actors Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks, actress Fran Drescher, musicians Paul Young and Johnny Rotten, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, race car driver Rusty Wallace, magician David Copperfield, basketball player Larry Bird and the KC-135 Stratotanker.
March Field's 50th anniversary celebration for the KC-135 was so big that it took place in the base's new C-17 hangar and included cake, drinks, music performed by the Vista Murrieta High School Band and a presentation on the evolution of air refueling.
Maj. Gen. Robert E. Duignan, commander, Fourth Air Force, and Boeing engineer Alwyn Lloyd hosted the event and enlightened guests with KC-135 history and tales of the aircraft's impressive feats.
"In 1956, the first KC-135 took to the air," said General Duignan. Although initially designed for aerial refueling, he continued, the KC-135 evolved to take on many roles, including "transport, airborne command post, RC-135 reconnaissance platforms, VIP versions have flown some very important people, and weather support. Nothing happens without the tankers."
As the celebration progressed, guests reminisced about the history of the storied aircraft. It was pointed out that when the KC-135 Stratotanker arrived on the scene, Elvis Presley appeared on the music charts for the first time with "Heartbreak Hotel," the alarm clock "snooze button" was introduced; President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act creating the Interstate Highway System, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed their last comedy show together. Regardless of what the future holds, everyone present agreed the KC-135 will be a part of it.
For the past 50 years, fighters and bombers have relied on tankers, said General Duignan. "Everyone needs tankers on site to get the shooters to the action."
"I want to congratulate aircrews, supporters and maintenance personnel," said Mr. Lloyd. "The guys who will fly the last KC-135 to the bone-yard are yet to be born."
With an average age of 43.6 years, the KC-135 Stratotanker isn't due for retirement until 2040.
"(KC-135) maintainers and flyers are second to none," added General Duignan. "The backbone of the refuelers - past and present - is the KC-135. Even though it's 50 years old, it's not ready to be put out to pasture."