Bitter Sweet Retirement: Tail Number 79-0433

  • Published
  • By Mr. Walter Napier III
  • 514 Air Mobility Wing

On April 26, 2022, one of the Air Force’s most reliable birds spread its wings for the final time.  After nearly 42 years of service, KC-10A Extender Tail Number 79-0433 flew out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., and headed for retirement.  From its beginnings in California as a test aircraft, 0433 had seen the deserts of Iraq, the mountains of Afghanistan, and despite four decades of service, cranked right up and gave the crew an easy and eventless final mission. 

The bird landed shortly after takeoff at the Air Mobility Command Museum on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, 0433’s new home.  The 436th Air Wing Vice Commander Col Shanon Anderson was there to welcome 0433 and its crew.  He praised the aircraft for its service, for being the first KC-10 to retire to a museum, and for his own personal experience on the bird.  Col Anderson noted in his speech that he flew his first combat mission on 0433 in 2001, and flew on 0433 many times over a four year period.  As one can imagine, he was thrilled to welcome 0433 to Dover AFB, seventeen years after his final mission on the bird.

The KC-10 platform was developed by modifying the Boeing DC-10, and saw the Air Force combine air refueling with cargo capabilities.  The aircraft measures 54.4 meters long, has a 50 meter wingspan, and its three General Electric CF6-50C2 turbofans provide 52,500 pounds of thrust each.  The aircraft can hold 356,000 pounds of fuel, 170,000 pounds of cargo, and it can travel 3800 nautical miles without refueling with its maximum takeoff weight of 590,000 pounds.   Tail number 79-0433 represents the first of sixty KC-10A aircraft developed for the US Air Force.  Originally a test aircraft, 0433 conducted its first flight on July 12, 1980, a year before the KC-10A fully entered service. 

Since that time the aircraft has served in every operation from EL DORADO CANYON in 1986 to ALLIES REFUGE in 2021.  The KC-10 has proved to be a multifunctional, well-loved, and reliable aircraft.  The KC-10 really proved its metal during Operations DESERT SHIELD/STORM when the KC-10A and KC-135 Stratotanker combined to provide 125 million gallons of fuel without missing a single rendezvous.  The KC-10A continued its service during the Global War on Terrorism, flying more than 1,390 missions.

As the Air Force transitions to the new KC-46A Pegasus aircraft, the fleet’s KC-10s are beginning to head for retirement.  Tail number 0433, however, has a new mission: to showcase the heritage of Air Mobility.  At the AMC Museum, 0433 will join its predecessors in air mobility and air refueling to tell the Air Force story to new generations.  Every year the AMC Museum receives approximately 130,000 visitors, and houses aircraft from the C-47 Skytrain and B-17 Flying Fortress from World War II to its newest addition the KC-10A Extender.

The flight crew that delivered 79-0433 was a combined 305th and 514th Air Mobility Wing crew to maintain the legacy of aircraft joint responsibility.  The Extender, in particular, holds a special place in “Freedom Wing” lore. In 1998, during Operation SOUTHERN WATCH, the 514th conducted the first KC-10 deployment fully manned by Air Force Reserve personnel.  Representing the 514 AMW on 0433’s final flight was Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Ortiz.  Ortiz has been working on this particular aircraft since 1996.  When I asked him for his comments on 0433’s retirement, he looked at the aircraft and with a voice tinged with nostalgia said, “It’s bitter sweet.”