Dyess Before Bones
By Airman Autumn Velez, 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 08, 2013
DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The B-1s have been at Dyess for close to three decades, but it hasn't always been a nesting spot for Bones.
The KC-135 Stratotanker used to traverse Dyess' runways and air space.
The 917th Air Refueling Squadron, part of the Strategic Air Command, resided here from January of 1965 to October of 1993. At its peak, there were 18 KC-135s who called Dyess home.
"At the time, every aircraft from Dyess had a Texas flag with a cow skull as a decal on their tails," said Richard "Doc" Warner, a retired master sergeant and former KC-135 flying crew chief who now works as the Dyess museum curator.
The KC-135 was the first jet-powered aerial refueling tanker used by the Air Force. Previous aircraft relied on propeller powered engines and weren't fast enough to efficiently provide mission-essential jet fuel.
"Tankers like the KC-97 had to fly on a downward slope in order to go fast enough to refuel fast flying jets," Warner explained. "The Air Force needed an aircraft that could keep up with the jet engine bombers and fighters, so they replaced the KC-97 with the KC-135"
Originally, there were more than 600 KC-135s built for the Air Force, approximately 400 of which are still flying today.
"Boeing started production of the KC-135 in 1956, most of those are no longer flying, but there are KC-135s built in 1958 that are still flying today," Warner said.
These stratotankers fly all over the world in order to provide jet fuel essential to completing missions that keep our men and women safe. The ability to refuel anywhere in the world is one of the most important factors in allowing the United States to have the world's greatest Air Force, Warner said.
"In-flight refueling is essential because nowadays the jets use more fuel and go further distances," said Ruben Guerrero Sr., a former- in-flight refueling specialist. "In-flight refueling is necessary to bring our bombers back safely. With the ability to in-flight refuel, there are so many things we can do. Without it, it's almost impossible to complete the mission. It plays a big part in winning the battle."
"If you've never seen an in-flight refueling, it's really amazing," said Warner. "The boom windows open and you're lying on your chest looking out the window. All that can be seen is the nose of the airplane creeping up; it all happens in slow motion."
In June of 1992, the days of the 917th Air Refueling Squadron residing at Dyess came to an end. Strategic Air Command was absorbed by Air Combat Command and Air Mobility and the 18 KC-135s Dyess had accommodated for almost three decades went their separate ways. Although Dyess no longer hosts such a fleet of refueling tankers, the KC-135s' legacy lives on, as tail number 56-3639, still brandishing the Texas flag and skull decal, permanently rests at Dyess Linear Airpark.