KC-135 marks 30 years at Forbes

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Greg Burnetta & Master Sgt. Bill Gilliland
  • 190th Public Affairs / 190th History Office
March 22, 1978 was a bittersweet day as it marked the beginning of a new era at the 190th Defense Systems Evaluation Group. It was that day the first KC-135A Stratotanker landed at mid morning, with a thunderstorm in the distance, marking the first step in the transition to becoming the 190th Air Refueling Group. 

Tanker #60-362 was on loan from the Air Force to be used as a maintenance trainer so that the changeover to the new mission could begin in earnest. After all, Airmen in the shops all over the base had to literally learn their jobs from scratch. Supply had to stock an almost entirely new range of supplies to support the new mission. The difference between the soon to depart B-57's and the incoming KC-135's was dramatic. 

Along with the new jet was a change to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). "We went from being part of Aerospace Defense Command (ADC) to being part of SAC, which was a really big change," said Col. Kerry Taylor, one of the few remaining 190th members who was part of the unit at the beginning of the tanker era. "We went from a casual work environment with no inspections to the strictest organization in the Air Force." 

Taylor was a crew chief on the propeller driven C-131 housed at Forbes during this transition period. "I left the C-131 and transferred to working on the KC-135 in order to gain jet experience," he said. "My commander said I should work on jets if I wanted to become a pilot." Taylor has been named Vice-Commander of the 190th ARW and will assume that position later this month. 

The Kansas Adjutant General at the time, Maj. Gen. Edward R. Fry, said he was "delighted" at the mission change. "This is what we've been looking for," said Fry. "I think it's time the unit got a new mission. The selection of the 190th to help fill the vital refueling role is an accomplishment to the unit and the people in it." 

Col. William S. Mahler, 190th Group Commander at the time of the changeover, was also supportive of the mission change. "I consider this to be the prestige mission in the Air National Guard, one that presents many rewards and corresponding challenges," said Mahler. An editorial in the Topeka Capital Journal several days later titled "On a Mighty Mission" praised the 190th and its new mission. 

On May 12, 1978, KC-135A #61-0280 landed at Forbes, on loan from the Air Force. It was this tanker that flew the unit's first operational mission on May 25th with Col. Malher at the controls. The first of the assigned tankers, #57-0495 arrived on June 2, 1978, and by late August, the 190th had its full complement of eight KC-135As. It was July 8, 1978, that the unit officially became the 190th Air Refueling Group and the 190th Defense Systems Evaluations Group ceased to exist. 

March and April were exciting times at the 190th, converting to the KC-135, recruiting almost 200 new members, retraining of the existing Guardsmen, and to make it even more interesting, a new Dining Facility opened in May, a new Fire Station was to be built, and Vehicle Maintenance was getting a new facility also. Remodeling of the hangers was proceeding to accommodate the new tankers, and Security Forces had a new and more exciting mission guarding the new alert mission that the 190th would soon assume. 

On April 18, 1978, less than one month after the arrival of the first tanker to the 190th, the last B-57 left the unit. It was transferred to the Vermont Air National Guard, leaving 20 years to the day of the arrival of the first B-57 in Hutchinson.