Retirement looms for the KC-10 tanker workhorse of the sky

By Willie Bodenstein


On 5 October the last deployed KC-10 in USAF service departed from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, on 5 October after supporting combat operations in U.S. Central Command.

Photo USAF Tech Sergeant James Hodgman

"The KC-10 has been the anchor of air refuelling in the region since Desert Storm," Squadron boss Maj. Joseph Rush of the 908th Expeditionary Air Refuelling Squadron stated in the media release.

Although the KC-l0's primary mission is aerial refuelling, it can combine the tasks of a tanker and cargo aircraft by refuelling fighters and simultaneously carry the fighter support personnel and equipment on overseas deployments. The KC-10 is also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations.

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The 908th EARS has flown the KC-10 in the U.S.-led military campaigns against terror groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria from Prince Sultan Air Base and Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates since 2002.

According to USAFT Tech. Sgt. Alexander Frank the departure marked the end of the airframe's 30+ years of service in the Middle East and southwest Asia. By September 2024, the Air Force's fleet of KC-10s will be decommissioned, to be gradually replaced by the KC-46 aircraft.

The KC-10 can transport up to 75 people and nearly 170,000 pounds (76,560 kilograms) of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles (7,040 kilometres) unrefuelled.

In addition to the three main DC-10 wing fuel tanks, the KC-10 has three large fuel tanks under the cargo floor, one under the forward lower cargo compartment, one in the center wing area and one under the rear compartment. Combined, the capacity of the six tanks carries more than 356,000 pounds (160,200 kilograms) of fuel - almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.

The first KC-10 headed to the aircraft graveyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in July 2020. The last of the fleet is slated for retirement in September 2024.

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