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The end of an era; the 350th EARS flies last scheduled KC-135 deployment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Foster
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, Public Affairs

In a world with an ever-changing battlefield, one need stays the same. Rapid global mobility is the key to every weapon in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal. From refueling the fighters that maintain peace and stability throughout the globe to delivering humanitarian aid where it’s needed most- air mobility assets make it happen.

The 350th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron “Red Falcons,” led by Lt Col Stu Meyers, is at the forefront of the U.S. Air Force's air mobility fleet.

“Rapid global mobility is the United States’ competitive advantage,” Meyers said. “While other militaries may have powerful weapons, we alone have the ability to hold any target across the globe at risk at the time of our choosing. This unique capability is largely due to the immediate reach made possible by our Mobility Air Forces and, in particular, the refueling fleet.”

The 350th EARS' trusted air refueling airframe is the KC-135 Stratotanker, an aircraft that’s dominated the skies for over 65 years. The 123,000-pound aircraft can offload more than 120,000 pounds of fuel to aircraft from every branch of the U.S. armed forces, extending the competitive advantage to joint mission partners in their vicinity.

“Tanker aircraft are the quintessential ‘force multiplier,’” Meyers explains. “All aircraft use fuel, so range and airborne time inherently becomes limited. Our ability to refuel aircraft while conducting operations extends loiter time, dramatically increasing the coalition’s regional capabilities. The 350th makes other units stronger and more effective by letting them do their job longer.”

Under the new Air Force Force Generation Model (AFFORGEN), the Air Force restructured the 350th EARS to combine forces with their aircraft maintenance counterparts. This change allows for a more cohesive team under one leader.

“With one boss, there can only be one vision, aligning our ‘flying and fixing’ priorities," Meyers explained. "While making a change on paper does not always create change in practice, for us, we are living it, and the team is enjoying our newfound unity.”

Unlike most flying squadrons, the 350th EARS is a true Total Force Integration unit comprised of Active Duty, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard personnel from across the United States.

“How we’re used to operating the aircraft is completely different,” said a 350th EARS pilot. “Leaning on our standard procedures and communicating with one another makes everything run smoothly. One of the greatest parts of a deployment is working alongside new people and learning from each other.”

The 350th EARS has a long and successful lineage tracing back to the 100th Bombardment Group, or the “Bloody Hundredth,” during World War II. The show "Masters of the Air" recently popularized the historic team's sacrifice while flying the B-17 Flying Fortress.

The Air Force originally formed the squadron to dominate the skies during the Second World War. As the Air Force's needs changed, so did the squadron's mission set.

As the Air Force shifts their focus again, this time to modernize its force structure, the 350th EARS prepares to transition to a new airframe: the KC-46 Pegasus.

“Without question, the KC-135 is one of the most iconic aircraft ever designed,” Meyers said. “It is a testament to American ingenuity that the Stratotanker remains operationally relevant nearly 70 years after engineers hand-drew its first blueprints. However, airplanes cannot fly forever, and the KC-46 is the future of air refueling. I am excited for the next generation of refueling platforms to take on and expand upon the KC-135’s legacy.”

As the 350th EARS flies their last scheduled KC-135 deployment, Meyers and his team look to the future with a bitter-sweet mindset.

“The 350th has flown the KC-135 since the early 1980s when it primarily supported the Cold War,” Meyers said. “It is humbling to know the team deployed today will close out over 40 years of history. We started out as proud SAC (Strategic Air Command) Warriors and concluded as GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) veterans.”