HIANG KC-135 conducts historic flyover

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs

A historic KC-135 Stratotanker from the Hawaii Air National Guard completed a flyover above the skies of the U.S. Air Force Academy Oct. 2, 2019.

Tail number 60-0329 and her HIANG crew of five, over-flew the picturesque campus as part of a ceremony honoring those who served during one of America's most prolonged and costly conflicts.

During the ceremony, a plaque to remember the academy graduates who served as Stratotanker crews in the Vietnam War was dedicated.

The flyover occurred over the Southeast Asia Plaza of Heroes, a solemn place honoring the Air Force Academy’s Vietnam veterans. The plaza sits on a bluff overlooking the cadet areas and is surrounded by pine and oak trees; mountains to the west provide an awe-inspiring backdrop.

Amongst the memorials of individuals and various remembrances stands a long granite wall adorned with plaques of the aircraft that were flown during the Vietnam War. Each plaque includes a description and or story of the aircraft's virtuous service in the armed conflict.

As the aircraft soared over the school and memorial grounds, onlookers could see very little which would distinguish the aircraft’s appearance from most other KC-135 Stratotankers, yet it’s set apart by its distinct tail number, 60-0329; the same number which was etched on the most recently revealed plaque and printed in aviation history books.

In 1967, 60-0329 and her crew consisting of Maj. John A. Casteel, Capt. Dean Hoar, Capt. Richard Trail, and Master Sgt. Nathan Campbell made the first-ever triplane aerial refueling.

That Stratotanker was then assigned to the Strategic Air Command and deployed to Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam war effort.

60-0329 was on a mission in early 1967 on the coast of Vietnam and had just completed refueling Air Force aircraft when a call came through for emergency refueling of a U.S. Navy A-3 Skywarrior who had just a few minutes of fuel left.

In those days it was not accepted practice to refuel aircraft from a sister-service; but the emergency took precedence and the “Young Tiger” and crew would disregard the protocol and execute a maneuver never before pulled-off in aviation circles.

As the Stratotanker refueled the Navy tanker, a Navy F-8 Crusader hooked up to the Skywarrior to receive fuel, marking the first time in aviation history that aerial refueling had been conducted between three aircraft connected to each other simultaneously.

The feat helped avert disaster and earn the crew of 60-0329, the 1967 Mackay Trophy, an annual award given by the U.S. Air Force for the most meritorious flight of the year.

Currently, 60-0329 is still in service as part of the 203rd Air Refueling Squadron.

“I felt very honored to be a part of this mission and after meeting everyone (Vietnam era KC-135 veterans), I was extremely humbled by it all,” said Maj. Carrie Hironaka 203rd ARS pilot and aircraft commander for the mission. “Being a tanker pilot, we all have the mindset of always just doing what needs to be done and accomplishing the task at hand.”

A highlight of the mission involved the current crew from the HIANG meeting 1967 Mackay Trophy mission crew member, retired Lt. Col. Richard Trail.

“My most memorable experience of this mission was seeing how emotional Dick Trail was when he saw the plane that was doing the actual fly-by was the exact same plane that he flew for that Mackay Trophy mission,” Hironaka said.

Crewing the “Young Tiger” on its historic flyover with Hironaka were Col. James Shigekane (Air Force Academy graduate, class of 92), Maj. Jared Raymond, and boom operators Master Sgt. Derek Wheeler and Staff Sgt. Kimo Kahalelehua. 154th Maintenance Group crew chiefs Master Sgt. Kevin Kalani and Master Sgt. Jeff Barker ensured the Stratotanker was good to go and mission ready.

“Flying a 200,000-pound airplane 500 feet above the ground with mountains surrounding you is not something you do every day and certainly not something you even train for, so without the entire crew this could not have happened as smoothly as it did,” Hironaka said. “Maj. Raymond did all the flight planning and timing calculations to a tee and with Col. Shigekane knowing the academy layout and all the landmarks in the area, all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the view!”

Planning for the flyover started months in advance and was the original brainchild of retired Capt. David Kline (Air Force Academy graduate, class of 69). An exhaustive search for the nearly 60-year old plane eventually led Kline to the HIANG.

“The mission never would have happened without Dave Kline who over a year ago dreamed it all up and coordinated many of the details into making this happen,” Hironaka said. “Only after talking with Dave Kline and then meeting everyone did it hit me how special of a mission this was.”

The mission culminated with the HIANG crew receiving a plaque from Lt. Col. Trail commemorating the flyover which has now been permanently placed in the cabin of 60-0329.

“By far, this was the coolest temporary assignment I have ever been a part of.” Hironaka said.