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The US Air Force KC-10 Retirement Tour

by Matt Falcus

The long-serving KC-10A aerial refuelling platform was stood down from active service with the United States Air Force in October 2023.

Developed from the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, these aircraft were among the last of the type flying anywhere in the world, and now are undertaking a farewell tour before being permanently grounded later this year.

In a ceremony on October 4th, 2023, history was made as the KC-10 aerial refueling aircraft, assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS), was officially deactivated. The event marked the end of an era in military aviation and highlighted the changing landscape of air power in the 21st century.


History of the KC-10A

The KC-10A Extender seamlessly fused commercial airliner design with military prowess. Born out of the collaboration between McDonnell Douglas and the United States Air Force in the 1970s, the KC-10A was developed to address the increasing need for an advanced aerial refueling tanker. Leveraging the DC-10’s proven airframe, the Extender incorporated cutting-edge refueling capabilities, transforming it into a force-multiplier for the U.S. military.

Officially entering service in 1981, the KC-10A played a crucial role in various theaters of operation. Its baptism of fire came during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, showcasing its capacity to support tactical air power. The Extender’s versatility truly shone during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, where it performed extensive aerial refueling, strategic airlift, and aeromedical evacuation missions. This marked the beginning of its widespread use in global military operations.

Over the years, the KC-10A became an indispensable asset, providing vital support in conflicts like Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. A symbol of flexibility, it not only excelled in refueling fighter jets and bombers but also demonstrated strategic airlift capabilities by transporting troops and cargo.

The Extender’s impact extends beyond the battlefield, as it remains an integral part of humanitarian efforts, responding to crises and natural disasters worldwide. As aviation enthusiasts marvel at its sleek design and multifaceted capabilities, the KC-10A stands as a testament to innovation, adaptability, and the seamless integration of military and civilian technologies in the dynamic world of aviation.

The final mission of the KC-10 took place on 5 October 2023 out of the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. Since then the fleet has been returning to bases in the United States, and will all be retired by September 2024.


KC-10A Farewell Tour

Around 60 KC-10A aircraft were built and used by the US Air Force between 1979 and 2023.

One of the final aircraft, with serial 84-0191, has been undertaking a farewell tour to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii recently.

This and other aircraft may also be making visits to other overseas bases, as well as the former bases that it was based across the United States, before retirement comes later this year.

Ultimately, most of the fleet will be sent to the Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona for long-term parking and ultimately scrapping. Some of the KC-10 aircraft may be preserved in museum collections, however with it being such a large aircraft it is no easy task for many locations.


KC-10A Replacement

The US Air Force is actively training crews in its newer aircraft that is replacing the KC-10A. This is the KC-46A Pegasus, which is based on the Boeing 767-200 airliner, with new deliveries still being taken of the type.

It will be more modern, efficient and cheaper to run than the ageing KC-10A. It also has a greater capacity, more versatility in terms of its payload, and has more onboard counteroffensive measures in place to better protect it.




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