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KC-135 finds home at Heritage Park

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Through longtime planning and cooperation, Airmen from the 168th Air Refueling Wing and 354th Fighter Wing transferred a KC-135 Stratotanker to its new home in Heritage Park March 15.

"The base personnel have done a fantastic job planning and building Heritage Park and we are proud to be a part of it," said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Sawyer, 168th Maintenance Group Commanders Staff Maintenance Operations Flight Superintendent.

Heritage Park honors the people and aircraft that have served at Eielson AFB over the years. Historical events and people are recognized through static displays of planes, memorials to different groups of service members and actions, and an overall pleasant atmosphere to meet and observe the features of the park.

"This aircraft signifies not only the current personnel that work with the unit but many people that have served with us and the base in the past that are still part of the community and state," said Chief Sawyer.

The move was completed by the 168th Maintenance Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, with assistance from the 354th Civil Engineer Squadron, 354th Crash Recovery Flight, 354th Security Forces Squadron, 354th Safety and 354th Airfield Operations.

The KC-135 was towed from the end of the runway down Flight line and Central Avenues, two of Eielson's main roads, to its current location in under two hours.

Coordination began last fall to work through any anticipated issues, and representatives from Airfield Operations, Security Forces, 354 Maintenance and Safety were brought together for a series of brief task-oriented planning sessions.

It was an immense task for both wings, but through proper planning and communication the relocation was completed safely and quickly.

Major parts of the preparation were wing tip removal. Approximately 20 feet of wing tip was removed from each side to bring the aircraft's wing span down to 94 feet from over 130 feet. In addition to getting the aircraft ready, the site at Heritage Park also had to be prepared.

Physical site preparation at Heritage Park was started around July 2009 with an agreement between the 168th ARW and 354th FW wing commanders to begin planning for specifics to provide a proper tribute for the 168th ARW's mission at Eielson.

"The quality of the folks involved, great attitudes, and good weather made for smooth execution on game day. I'm humbled to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a great effort," said 2nd Lt. Hager, 354th Civil Engineer Squadron Operations Support Chief.

There were some concerns about putting the Stratotanker on display in the park.

According to Lt. Hager the most apparent concern was due to its size. To reduce this visual impact, the site was selected so the aircraft would be physical separated from the smaller planes. The cockpit elevation was also leveled so it would be the same height as the cockpit of the F-16.

Finally, concrete footers going down about 6 feet into the ground under the landing gears were designed so the soil would adequately anchor and support the 110,000 pound aircraft.

There is still work to be done even though the aircraft is in the park. The 168th ARW will complete decommissioning tasks and paint the plane over the summer. 354th CES personnel will construct steel stands that will support the landing gears and brass placards. They will also cast the placards and install lights around the pad area. The Snow Barn crew will create a parking area and landscape the site.

"This plane is a source of pride for not only the Air National Guard members who have operated and maintained the aircraft, but to the active duty members of the 6th Strategic Reconnaissance wing that flew them here before us," said Chief Sawyer.

The KC-135 has been in service at Eielson for more than 35 years prior to the establishment of the 168th ARW in 1986. It provides the unique unsinkable aircraft carrier capability that put Eielson on the map as an important part of the Air Force's Global Reach and Power.