Farewell to the USAF’s KC-10 Extender


Farewell flyer for the KC-10 retirement at McGuire AFB in June, 2024.

Story by Don Linn, photos by Don Linn and other attributed photographers

It was a grey and cloudy day as KC-10A 84-0188, the last example of the 32 KC-10 Extenders at McGuire, New Jersey, was center stage on the 305th AMW flight line. The farewell ceremony also commemorated a 30-year legacy of KC-10 operations at McGuire that began with the 32nd ARS’s arrival on September 1, 1994. That was the unit that received the first KC-10 delivered to the Air Force when the second production KC-10 79-0434 arrived on March 17, 1981. At that time, the squadron was based at Barksdale AFB, near Bossier City in northwest Louisiana.

The squadron later relocated to its new home at McGuire AFB and joined the 305 AMW, where it continued operating KC-10A 79-0434 for 27 years until it was retired to the “Boneyard” at Davis Monthan AFB on June 21, 2021.


Rain is falling on KC-10, 84-0188, as it sits in front of the 305th AMW hanger for the last time while friends, crew and media seek shelter from the storm in the hanger during the Farewell Ceremony on  22 June 2023 . The last Extender will depart for Davis Monthan AFB, the Boneyard, in the Arizona desert at 2:45 for the last flight. Photo by Senior Airman Sergio Avalos, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

Aircrew and maintainers, friends and media were there to take part in the last goodbye to “Big Sexy” as the KC-10 was affectionately known to her crews. Lt Gen James Jacobson, deputy commander of the Pacific Air Forces reviewed 84-0188’s statistics, which included 33.017 flight hours and over 125,000 U. S. and Coalition aircraft from 25 countries refueled.

The following day KC-10A Extender 84-0188 took off for the last time after a brief rain delay at 1445 hours local time in an overcast sky. Air Force personnel and guests looked on, witnessing the closure of another chapter in Air Force history, many of them having spent their entire career flying and maintaining the KC-10. Using the call sign GUCCI 10 for its last flight, 84-0188 was bound for the 309th AMARG at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in the Arizona desert near Tucson. The flight would last 4 hours and 14 minutes, landing at 1858 hours.

The first McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender, the second production KC-10, serial 79-0434, a modified DC-10-30CF, the convertible passenger and freight variant of the DC-10 was delivered to the U. S. Air Force Strategic Air Command, 32nd ARS/2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AAFB, Louisiana on March 17, 1981.

KC-10 refueling

KC-10A 85-0029 from the 9th ARS, Travis AFB,  refueling from a KC-135 from the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 147 ARS over central Pennsylvania during a March 1986 sortie. Don Linn Photo

McDonnell Douglas delivered 60 KC-10 Extenders to the U. S Air Force, only one was lost in its 40 years of service. That was KC-10A, serial 82-0190, ironically named Lady Luck, assigned to the 32 ARS at Barksdale Air Force Base. Then Secretary of the Air Force Peter Aldridge renamed the tanker “Rollin Out the Red Carpet” in January, 1987 and added a new colorful nose at. Ultimately, the name change may have been unlucky when a few months later, on September 17, 1987, “Rollin out the Red Carpet” exploded and burned to the ground on the Squadron ramp at Barksdale, taking the life of one crewmember. The Air Force quickly assembled an investigation team to find the cause of the explosion and ensuing fire. The remaining 59 KC-10 Extender fleet was immediately grounded until a cause was found and corrective action taken. The investigation discovered the explosion was due to a fuel leak in the center fuel tank. Air Force investigators found the leak was the result of a design flaw in the fuel system, which resulted in a build-up of fuel vapors that ignited from a spark in the battery of a fuel pump near the tank. A check of the remaining KC-10 fleet discovered leaks in 12 other KC-10s. McDonnell Douglas was ordered to correct the defect, and no further incidents occurred.

The Air Force began retiring its fleet of 59 KC-10A tankers on July 12, 2020. The first to retire that day was KC-10A 86-0036. Originally, the 60 year old KC-135 was scheduled to retire first. The KC-46 was developed to replace the venerable KC-135, then the KC-10.

The U.S. Air Force is currently operating a three-tanker aerial refueling force: the 60 year old KC-135, the 30 year old KC-10 and the new KC-46. During 2021 the Air Force’s tanker fleet comprised of 539 aircraft, with KC-135 and KC-10 tankers accounting for the majority. A presentation to the House Armed Services Committee on May 12, 2022, regarding the future of the USAF tanker fleet provides insight into the immediate future requirements. It reads” The Air Force FY23 budget request proposes decreasing the tanker fleet from 479 total Active Inventory to 455 by the end of 2027…”

KC-10, 850055, Travis AFB

Sitting on the McGuire AFB flightline during the 20 May 2023 Power in the Pines Air and Space Open House is KC-10A, 85-0033 serving with the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB, California. The 60th AMW will retire the last KC-10 in 2024. Don Linn Photo

KC-10A, 79-1950

The brilliant white and grey delivery scheme with the blue SAC fuselage band of KC-10 79-1950 serving with the 22nd ARW on 7 June 1991, is an example of the KC-10’s SAC legacy and was normal for SAC non-combat aircraft. It was designed to be more visible to allow bomber pilots to quickly spot the tanker for a refueling rendezvous. Don Linn  photo

KC-10A, 79-0422, 2nd BW

The Extender prototype, 79-0433, had a long service career spanning nearly 42 years. It completed its first flight on 12 July 1981 and was retained by McDonnell Douglas as a testbed. It successfully completed its first aerial refueling shortly after on 30 October. Exactly one year later it was delivered to the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing, at Barksdale AFB. During September 1994 the 32nd ARS was relocated to McGuire AFB and joined the 305th AMW where it remained until it was retired on 28 April 2022 to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB, Delaware. Photo: Fred Roos


During the decades long Afghanistan War, McGuire AFB deployed tankers to support the war effort. This 305th AMW KC-10, with the blue McGuire tail stripe, banks away after refueling from a KC-135 following a 27 May 2008 refueling mission, below are Afghanistan villages. USAF photo; Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway

KC-10A, 79-1948

Tires smoke as KC-10A, 79-1948 of the 452 ARW, 79 ARS, touches down following its aerial demonstration on 3 June 1987. During the first 3 months of  2010, 79-1948 served with the 308th EARS, 380th Air Expeditionary Wing (Provisional) flying refueling missions from Dhafra, United Arab Emirates during Iraqi Freedom. In March 2022 the Extender participated in the NATO Exercise Cold Response. Don Linn photo

KC-10A, 85-0032

Sitting on the Lambert Field ramp wearing the grey Shamu scheme on a bright sunny fall day is KC-10A, 85-0032 with the 32nd ARS, serving with the 2nd BW at Barksdale ADB, on 27 October 1986. The KC-10 was transferred to the 2nd ARS, 305 AMW at McGuire AFB during May 2012. Fred Roos photo

KC-10A, 86-0036,4th Wing, 911 ARS, Desert Storm, London June 1991, D1st KC-10 to retire 13 July 2020. on Linn

Peacemaker, KC-10A, 86-0036, displaying 67 Desert Storm mission marks with its distinctive nose art at the London International Air Show, Ontario, on 2 June 1991. . Peacemaker refueled the first Desert Storm air strike on 16 January 1991 and was the last KC-10 to depart Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz Airport, Saudia Aribia during March 1991 at the close of Desert Storm. Don Linn Photo

KC-10, 83-0079

KC-10A, 80-0079 from the 305th AMW refueling a CV-22 Osprey with the 8th Special Operations Squadron with the centerline drogue during a training mission over the Gulf of Mexico on 18 November 2016. It marks the first an 8th SOS aircraft connected to a KC-10. USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick, DVIDS VIRN  image 161118-F-UQ958-0063

Here’s a small gallery of some nose art and base/unit markings from KC-10s over the years:

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