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Two “Fini Flights” at Once!

All photos provided by and taken by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sean Hetz and Master Sergeant Joseph A. Vigil.

As 860036 was prepared for the boneyard, it’s flying boom was removed while still at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The all-volunteer crew was piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Mike Pillion who was making his Fini Flight and retiring from the U.S. Air Force. LTC Pillion granted us an exclusive interview about his and 860036’s Fini Flights.

I understand you were initially a helicopter pilot and was wondering which airframe you piloted?

My first assignment was with the rescue unit at Patrick AFB, FL flying the HH-3E. Our mission was to provide security within the Eastern Test Range during missile launches plus resupply downrange radar tracking stations in the Bahamas. After the Space Shuttle “Challenger” explosion in 1986 our mission evolved to include rescue and recovery for all shuttle launches.

Since becoming a KC-10 pilot in 1989, you had the opportunity to serve in both the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the Air Mobility Command (AMC). In what ways have you seen the capabilities of the KC-10 expand during its service?

There have been some significant changes to employing the KC-10, more as a result of world events then changing from SAC to AMC. Since Operation DESERT STORM, KC-10s have deployed to support air refueling requirements in Europe, the Pacific and Southwest Asia. Wherever it was needed, the KC-10 performed brilliantly and demonstrated how vital air refueling is to ensure our national objectives.

The rumors have been swirling for about ten years now that the KC-10 would be retiring. However, something always seemed to save the KC-10 from the budget axe. Do you believe the KC-10 has reached the end of its service life?

Absolutely not. The KC-10 has undergone many upgrades beginning with the FMS-800, then the CNS/ATM modification, and most recently the entire fleet completed Mode 5 upgrade. With additional funding, the KC-10 could continue to fly for 20 more years. No tanker has a greater fuel offload capability so AMC should focus solely on the KC-10’s air refueling mission. There are plenty of other aircraft that can move cargo so utilizing the KC-10 for long haul air refueling would be its ideal mission in the future.

In your career did you have a favorite aircraft that you looked forward to refueling?

I think refueling the B-2 was my favorite. During my deployment to Anderson AFB, we supported air refueling for B-2’s temporarily stationed there. One night, a B-2 departed Guam for Whiteman AFB and we provided their first refueling so they could make it back home nonstop. Their flight covered over 6000 miles that night. Since then, every time that I’ve refueled a B-2, I can’t help but wonder where in the world their mission will take them.

Do you believe the KC-10 retirement will be short-lived and we will see them make their way to civilian cargo, military contractor or fire service duty?

I don’t understand why the Air Force would continue to retire KC-10s while KC-46 deliveries are delayed. I’m hopeful that Congress will recognize that funding the KC-10 for many years is absolutely necessary, in part, because of these delays. Back in February, General Miller spoke about the feasibility study of contracting with civilian air refueling operators and how that could relieve stress on the tanker force. Yet, if more jets are retired, I would imagine that a civilian operator like Omega could purchase boom and drogue capable KC-10s and put them to immediate use.

Do you know how 860036 was selected to be the first KC-10 to be retired?

I am not 100 percent sure why it was selected.

When you took the controls of 860036 for the final time, did you think more about the aircraft taking its last flight or of your own last flight at the controls?

I honestly was thinking about 86-0036 being on its final flight. The jet will most likely be cannibalized as soon as possible since many KC-10 parts are not readily available. While I hope to continue flying in the civilian world, I’ll always feel privileged to fly a proud workhorse like 86-0036 into retirement on my final military flight.

I would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Mike Pillion for granting me this exclusive interview and sharing an insider’s view into the KC-10. I wish him a wonderful and rewarding retirement and future.

“The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.” Random Warbirds #7

BAC Strikemaster at Andrews AFB.

P-51D Mustang at Andrews AFB.

P-40E Warhawk at Andrews AFB.

Air Force Heritage Flight at Andrews AFB.

P-51A Mustang at Lockborne, Ohio.

P-51D Mustang at Lockborne Ohio.

P-51C Mustang at Lockborne, Ohio.

North American P-51 Mustang at Lockborne, Ohio’s Gathering of Mustangs.

P-51D at Andrews AFB.

P-51D at Andrews AFB.


MiG-17 at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

N2S-5 at the Udvar-Hazy Museum- NASM, Virginia

MiG-167 at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

Bell UH-1B at Nellis AFB, Nevada.

P-51C Mustang at Lockborne, Ohio.

P-38 Lightning at Lockborne, Ohio.

P-51D low pass, NAS Pensacola, Florida.

North American F-86F at Andrews AFB.

North American P-51D Mustang at Andrews AFB.

Cessna A-37 Dragonfly at Westover ARB, Masssachusetts.

Boeing EC-135G Airborne Command Post at Westover ARB, Massachusetts.

B-25J at Dayton, Ohio.

FG-1D Corsair at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

North American T-28 formation, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.




Looking Back at the 2002 NAS Norfolk Air Show


Continuing on a theme introduced a month ago; this is the second installment of photographs from airshows that I attended prior to the age of digital photography. I am not proceeding in any particular chronological order from my collection. I am merely examining the boxes upon boxes of photographs and pulling the best shows from the compilation of slides and negatives that I have amassed.

I have been attending airshows regularly since the mid 80’s, but due to the fact that I had little money to spend on a quality camera and lenses during that time, I am only converting photographs starting from the late 90’s to 2005. 2005 being the time I purchased my first Nikon digital camera.

As I mentioned in the previous article, I am using an Epson Perfection V850 Pro, flatbed scanner, driven by SilverFast Ai Studio 8 software to convert my Kodachrome 64 slides and Kodak Royal Gold 100 negative film. The camera of choice back in 2002 was a Nikon N90s SLR with assorted Nikon lenses.

I chose to convert the photographs from the 2002 Naval Station Norfolk Airshow to digital images because of the strength and variety of the aircraft displayed at the airshow. Scheduled in the month of April, the event was typically the first airshow of the season, (after a long winter of inactivity), for photographers living on the east coast. The airshow was one of the main attractions in the annual salute to NATO taking place within the Norfolk Virginia International Azalea Festival. The tradition of the International Azalea Festival was inspired by the establishment of NATO’s Allied Command Atlantic in Norfolk.

Unsettled weather is always a factor in late April in the Hampton Roads, Norfolk area. 2002 was no exception to this rule, with mixed hazy sunshine and cloudy conditions. On top of that challenge is the matter of shooting into the sun for the live aerial demonstrations. Nevertheless, Norfolk delivered a high quality mix of interesting static and live acts. Taxiing aircraft and the static display were treated with great lighting conditions, and this was certainly a substantial bonus for photography at Norfolk.

Let’s review some of the aircraft found at this show which sadly are no longer found in the US military’s inventory and/or no longer participating on the airshow circuit. First and foremost I must make mention of the Georgia Air National Guard B-1B on static display. In addition, we were treated to a spectacular B-1B aerial demonstration from the Kansas Air National Guard.

Additionally we witnessed an F-14D demo from VF-101, the Grim Reapers. More jet action was found with the F-104 Starfighters team and F-86 as well as a Langley F-15C participation in the USAF heritage flight. Trainers had a significant footprint at the show with a Navy T-2C Buckeye and Airforce T-37 Tweet from Vance AFB.

Continuing on this theme of extinct markings we find Massachusetts based A-10’s, and a Virginia based F-16. Displaying attractively in sunlight was the “US Steel” logo nose art on a KC-135E from Pennsylvania. Another retired version in the static display was a C-130E from Little Rock AFB and a local based C-9B from Norfolk.

In closing, I would like to point out that a Turkish C-130 supporting the Turkish Stars was on site, and of course no NATO airshow could be without a NATO E-3 sitting on the ramp.

In reviewing this show from 2002 it certainly brings to mind all of the variety that existed in the static display and aerial demonstration portion of the airshows taking place almost twenty years ago. Variety, which I truly miss being represented at shows nowadays and it is quite unfortunate that this show, which was a real treasure, is no longer on the airshow schedule.

The reality of it is that the military has changed dramatically during the past twenty years and it is foolish to think those changes would not impact the scope and volume of aircraft at airshows. Leaner forces, global commitment, hardware commonality between services and tighter budgets are just a few of the reasons for the changes seen. Looking ahead my hope is that we can continue to maintain a high quality airshow and also strike a nice balance of representing the current inventory on static display and in the air.









Hanscom AFB’s 1989 and 1991 Air Shows

42nd Bomb Wing KC-135R based at Loring AFB, Maine. The base is now closed Air Force Base due to the BRAC. 

The two year period between 1989 and 1991 saw a pair of air shows at Massachusetts’ Hanscom AFB, to the west of Boston found in the suburb of Bedford. Twenty years has seen a huge turnover of military aircraft in the United States… look at what was displayed in the years on either side of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Westover Air Reserve Base – based C-5A Galaxy. It is parked in the desert at the AMARG now.

MC-130E Combat Talon complete with the now-retired Fulton Recovery System.

E-2 Hawkeye with a pair of shared  MiG-21 kills.

This E-2C is now retired and used as a training fuselage.

This S-3B has a pair of red radar installation kill markings inder the “702”

Marine Corps OV-10D Broncos were retired shortly after Desert Storm ended.

C-5A with European-style camouflage… a desert war with desert camouflage was not in the foreseeable future a few years earlier.

A Vermont ANG/158 FW F-16A ADF (Air Defense Variant). The 158th FW now flies the F-35B Lightning II.

Looks like a former Blue Angels “Boss” is now a CAG in  1991!! Captain Moneymaker retired as a Rear Admiral later on.

Kill markings on an EA-6 Prowler. HARM anti-radiation missiles were used heavily in the Gulf War.

Army AH-64A Apache. All Apaches are all now upgraded to a -D variant or later.

Air Force F-15B Eagle, assigned to the Luke AFB training wing at the time. All of the F-15 A and B models have long been retired.

Canadian Forces CT-133 Silver Star. Today, you’ll see the aircraft in Ace Maker markings!

MGM Grand Air normally operated from the civilian side of the Hanscom AFB airport… Bedford (KBED). Sports team charters was a specialty.

Grumman A-6E with partly-subdued markings.

439th AW C-5A – The Patriot Wing.

Myrtle Beach-based A-10s, still in European Theatre color schemes. Myrtle Beach isn’t a military base any more.

Air Force flight check C-29A was one of four procured, and all went on to serve with the FAA after Air Force use.

Marine Corps CH-53E in between a KC-135R and a C-141B/C Starlifter – the latter type has been retired since 2006.

AC-130H Spectres have been replaced with newer AC-130U/W/J versions.

This Block 42 F-16C was assigned to the Arizona Air National Guard, but was without unit markings then. Currently it is still in active use.

This F-16C was assigned to the 70th Fighter Squadron at Moody AFB; the Squadron was inactivated in November, shortly after the air show. It was resurrected as an A-10 squadron for a while, and is now inactive again.

Grumman EA-6A was the interim version between the A-6E Intruder and the EA-6B Prowler. Used during the Vietnam War, this aircraft was used as an Aggressor and jammer by West Coast based VAQ-33 at the time of the show, replacing retired EA-3 Skywarriors.

Grumman A-6E Intruder… all of the A-6s were retired with the arrival of F/A-18 Hornets.

Navy EA-6Bs are all retired as well… the Marines were the last squadrons to use this stretched A-6.

Marine Corps F/A-18A Hornet. VMFA-312 Checkerboards went on to wear “Fight’s On”on many of their jets.

EC-130E-II  communications aircraft. All -E versions are now retired from the U.S. military. This airframe was later converted to a HC-130P special operations aircraft.

Eglin AFB-based F-4E Phantom. This airframe was converted into a QF-4E target and written off in 2002.

S-3B with Desert Storm kill markings.

Pennsylvania Air National Guard EC-130E(RR) Commando Solo aircraft have been replaced with newer EC-130J aircraft.


Collings Foundation B-17G. Destroyed in a crash at Windsor Locks CT in 2019.


Warbird line up at Bedford/Hanscom AFB including a C-47, C-1A, B-17G, and a C-45.

Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) aboard a Coast Guard HU-25B jet… these rare conversions, based at Cape Cod/Otis ANGB, tracked oil slicks purposely created during the War.

Another look at the rather rare EA-6A, with loads of paint touch-ups for corrosion control. That’s not an electronic camouflage scheme yet.

Air brakes deployed on a Grumman A-6E Intruder.

Maintenance work being done on a warbird B-25 Mitchell.

KC-135 based at Loring AFB wears a Moose zap identifying that it served in the Desert Storm conflict.

AH-64A Apache engine bay.

Army AH-64A Apache on display.

Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King, which was retired from the Navy, refurbished to SH-3T civilan standards, and was for sale in 2019.

One of the Golden Knights C-31As, used as transporting and platform for the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team. This airframe is now being prepared to be ferried (back) to the Netherlands, after Army retirement.


USMC CH-53E landing during the show.

USAF F-117A made flybys at the show, markings are of the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, at that time from Tonopah, Nevada and then moved to Holloman AFB New Mexico shortly after Desert Storm ended, and being renamed the 49 TFW. Some of these jets are still in flyable storage.

Boeing B-52G from the 42BW, Limestone, Maine. All -Gs were retired shortly after the Gulf War.

B-1B making its appearance in the Massachusetts skies, with bright afterburners ablaze. The air shows at Hanscom made nearby I-95 the country’s slowest Interstate as spectators pulled over to watch the show. Massachusetts State Police had their hands full keeping the traffic from stopping and colliding with each other.

KC-135R tanker on display. This aircraft is still active in 2020.

Fuddy Duddy, a B-17G, was operated by the national Warplane Museum.

Above and below are a series of views of the static ramps from atop of the huge DC Hangar at Hanscom AFB…