PORTSMOUTH — History was made Sunday afternoon at the Air National Guard Base at Pease.
The oldest working KC-135R Stratotanker in the Air Force’s fleet took off for the last time as part of the 157th Air Refueling Wing. Built in 1957, it will now be used by the Arizona National Guard.
Aircraft 57-1419 was the one remaining KC-135 at Pease.
The Air National Guard has been preparing to receive 12 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft this fall and preparations have to be completed before the new generation of military refueling planes can be brought in.
During a departure ceremony on Sunday, Brigadier General Laurie Farris remembered the missions Aircraft 57-1419 has completed.
“She flew all over the world, delivering fuel and cargo to everybody,” Farris said of the 62-year-old plane. “You know, every time we had a snowstorm here, men and women, she was out there in the cold with us. She sat there in that hot desert sun longer than we did.
“But she still delivered the mission like an old dependable friend. Always there, always ready, always capable, and we are going to miss her.”
Mission Boom Operator Master Sgt. John Lennon and Instructor Boom Operator Master Sgt. Glen Starkweather were on the last flight out for Aircraft 57-1419.
Lennon, who is 59, has been serving in the military for 39 years and flying for 35. He said this aircraft is his favorite.
“I’ve never not been able to refuel on this plane,” Lennon said.
There were a number of retired military members who traveled to Pease for the departure ceremony. In the crowd was Ken Lauter of Dover. He said he worked on KC-135 maintenance and quality assurance before he left the service.
“This is tough. It’s great to come down and see these guys, but we put our hearts and souls into these airplanes,” Lauter said.
A public celebration is being planned for when the KC-46 tankers arrive this fall.