Grissom retires 'Spirit of JUST CAUSE' KC-135R

  • Published
  • By Douglas Hays
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs

Not all retirements ceremonies are the same.

A Grissom KC-135R Stratotanker is retiring after 60 years of military service!

Aircraft 62-3530 took its first flight Jan. 30, 1963, and is taking its last flight March 3, 2023.

The long-time refueling jet will spend its retirement years in Arizona where the air is dry and easy on the bones – at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Like most retirement ceremonies, friends gathered around reminisce on the career of 3530.

Former members sounded off about the retirement.

“Seeing one of your planes being sent to the bone yard is like losing a family member,” said retired Tech. Sgt. Chris Bond, who spent 30-years as a crew chief.

Bond’s son, Master Sgt. Ben Bond remembers taking 3530 on his first deployment.

“We brought her home early from another deployment in 2013 due to damage she acquired in the area of responsibility,” the Ben said. “It was always a good jet.”

Coming from a large family, 3530 was the 581st A-model offspring of Ma’ and Pa’ Boeing and was delivered to the Air Force on Feb. 8, 1963.

Initially assigned to the 900th Air Refueling Squadron at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, 3530 was part of the famous Strategic Air Command.

When the squadron’s parent Wing, the 494th Bombardment Wing was inactivated, the squadron and 3530 became attached to the 509th Bombardment Wing at Pease Air Force Base, New Hampshire in April of 1966.

It wasn’t all fall foliage and picturesque scenes, 3530 was a workhorse and likely flew missions in Vietnam, refueling B-52s as part of Operation ARC LIGHT, according to Brian Knowles, 434th ARW historian.

The aircraft’s parent unit, the 509th BW, also flew ‘Young Tiger’ events in 1974 and 1975. Young Tiger missions were designed to meet the needs of tactical aircraft in their raids on targets throughout Southeast Asia.

In April 1986, 3530 was transferred to Warner Robbins AFB, Georgia where she was modified and upgraded to a KC-135R

The tanker arrived at Grissom on Nov. 23, 1992, and became operational the following summer.

Eventually 3530 became known as the Spirit of JUST CAUSE in honor of the liberation of Panama in 1989-90.

During its career, 3530 will have flown more than 21,380 hours and 2,235 sorties.

In his remarks during the retirement ceremony, Col. Thom Pemberton spoke about the aircraft and the professional maintenance that took such great care of the aircraft and the aircrew who have flown it.

“As an aviator, I owe my life to our maintainers, whose attention to detail and steadfast dedication allowed myself and all our crews to return home to their families,” Pemberton said. “There is a bond of trust between maintenance and operations that must never be taken for granted.”

Those charged with caring for 3530 in the final years also remembered.

Tech. Sgt. David Adams, 434th Maintenance Squadron crew chief, has been assigned to the aircraft for almost five years and said the parting is bittersweet.

“I’m really sad. She’s a great jet, never had any problems with or anything,” said Adams. “She has a rich history, but it’s one of the jets I’ve been on the longest, so I’ve put a lot of work into it and it’s really sad to see it go.”

And while 3530 is heading out the door, Grissom has a replacement jet on-base to take its place.

Aircraft 58-0093 is on station and being brought up to Grissom’s standards.

“It’s exciting that we’re getting a new jet and to be a part of this piece of history,” Adams added.