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Tanker Tail Swap: Air Guard wings rotate aircraft

A KC-135R Stratotanker at the 134th Air Refueling Wing in Tennessee.  This tanker was sent to the 128th ARW in Milwaukee as part of an AMC/NGB-mandated tanker swap to maintenance fleet readiness.  (Air National Guard Photo by 2nd Lt. Nathan Wallin / Released)

A KC-135R Stratotanker at the 134th Air Refueling Wing in Tennessee. This tanker was sent to the 128th ARW in Milwaukee as part of an AMC/NGB-mandated tanker swap to maintenance fleet readiness. (Air National Guard Photo by 2nd Lt. Nathan Wallin / Released)

A KC-135R previously assigned to the 134th Air Refueling Wing in Knoxville, Tenn. undergoes a new touch of paint and maintenance work at the 128th ARW in Milwaukee.  The tanker, now part of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s fleet, was sent to the 128th from the 134th unit as part of an AMC/NGB-mandated tanker swap to maintenance fleet readiness.  (Air National Guard Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rohloff / Released)

A KC-135R previously assigned to the 134th Air Refueling Wing in Knoxville, Tenn. undergoes a new touch of paint and maintenance work at the 128th ARW in Milwaukee. The tanker, now part of the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s fleet, was sent to the 128th from the 134th unit as part of an AMC/NGB-mandated tanker swap to maintenance fleet readiness. (Air National Guard Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Rohloff / Released)

McGHEE TYSON ANGB, Tenn. -- Four Air National Guard air refueling units recently swapped tanker aircraft as part of an Air National Guard/Air Mobility Command-mandated maintenance plan.

The jet rotation had two key goals: to better arrange aircraft maintenance schedules so one base isn't short of jets for a long period of time, and to prevent, by rotation from one geographic region to another, corrosion in the bodies of the jets.

The 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard sent one of their tankers to the 134th ARW of the Tennessee ANG. The 134th sent one of their tankers to the 128th ARW of the Wisconsin ANG. The Milwaukee-based 128th sent one of their tankers to the 108th ARW of the New Jersey ANG. The 108th, which also gained a second tanker from the 134th, sent away two of their tankers, the first to the 190th ARW of the Kansas ANG and the second to Alabama's 117th ARW in Birmingham.

"Almost every unit was touched by this in the last year, in this tail swap," said Lt. Col. Steven Jamison, 108th ARW Maintenance Group Commander.

PDM schedules

Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) is an aircraft maintenance process that can be both time consuming and troubling for an air refueling wing attempting to stay mission ready. An aircraft at PDM will undergo inspections, upgrades and occasional rebuilds on systems ranging from air frame and engines to avionics and landing gear. The average length of stay for an aircraft at PDM can range from 130 to 300 days.

Simply put, if a wing has too many of its jets away at PDM and for too long a period of time, that wing will face greater difficulty contributing to the Air Force mission.

"They like to be able to separate them out so all the tankers don't go to PDM maintenance at the same time, which would deprive that base of a number of their jets," said Maj. Hiram Williamson of the 134th Operations Squadron.

By re-aligning the tankers according to their PDM schedules, the switch would ensure that each ANG air refueling wing has enough readily available tankers at their base. "To de-conflict the PDM schedule, that was the key driver of this," said Jamison.

"This switch will help get the depot schedule more in line," said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Stewardson, 134th ARW Maintenance Squadron Supervisor.

"The idea was to correct all of these in one fell swoop," Jamison added.

Corrosion Avoidance

The KC-135 originally entered the Air Force inventory in 1957 and has flown in every American conflict from the Vietnam War to Operation Unified Protector. An aircraft that is built of metal, aluminum in this case, with more than 50 years of continuous service is destined for corrosion and old age issues.

"The tanker has thousands of pieces of metal, layers of metal, and there's a natural tendency for metal to corrode," said Stewardson.

Corrosion is a chemical reaction that gradually degrades and weakens metals. The most common form of corrosion is rust.

"It's just like an old car, try to find a '57 Chevy that's not rusted," Stewardson added.

The Air Force, recognizing this potential problem, implemented a Corrosion Mitigation Plan that aimed to shift aircraft stationed in severe corrosion environments, the namely salt water coastal-based Kadena AB in Japan and MacDill AFB in Florida, to areas of lesser corrosion risk.

"They like to remove them from areas where they could get exposed to salt and rotate them in to a more environmentally friendly area," Williamson said.

"Salt is a lot more corrosive than water," added Stewardson.

Making the tanker your own - Tail Flash, Nose Art

Once the new tanker arrives at its new base the maintenance squadron at the jet's new home station will make the new tanker their own. They'll repaint the nose art, localize the tail flash put the jet through another inspection.

"The receiving unit will do an acceptance inspection based on their local requirements," said
Stewardson.

"They'll re-establish the setup, standard configuration and get the jet flying locally as soon as they can,"
said Maj. Todd Walton, an instructor pilot and Chief of Scheduling at the 128th Air Refueling Wing.

"They'll go through it for at least a couple of weeks," said Walton.

Tanker Facts

In 1954 the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its 732-plane fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.

Air Mobility Command manages more than 490 total aircraft inventory Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 271 of those in support of AMC's mission.

Inventory: Active duty, 195; Air National Guard, 251; Air Force Reserve, 84