KC-135, tail 7999 – aka ‘Wolff Pack’ – retires from RAF Mildenhall after 59 years dedicated service

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

It’s Air Force tradition that at the end of a retirement ceremony, retirement orders are read, and a special retiree pin is presented to the person retiring, acknowledging the years of dedicated service given. That same tradition stepped up a notch Nov. 23, 2022, when a retirement “pin” was presented; not to a person this time, but an aircraft – KC-135 Stratotanker tail number 63-7999, otherwise known as “Wolff Pack.”

This was the first official retirement of a KC-135 at RAF Mildenhall.

In a ceremony narrated by its dedicated flying crew chief, Staff Sgt. Damon Hadbavny, 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, presiding officer Col. David Hood, 100th Maintenance Group commander, and guest speaker Robert Paley, 100th Air Refueling Wing historian, shared some of tail 7999’s 59-year history and heritage.

“The KC-135 was born out of a prototype airframe – the 367-80 – and delivered on the jet refueling capability our modern jet bombers needed,” said Hood. “Flexing our industrial might, the Air Force produced more than 732 KC-135s during a 10-year production run, and nearly 400 of these aircraft are still currently flying.”

The 100th MXG commander said the U.S. Air Force was just 16 years old when this tanker entered the service Nov. 13, 1963.

“To put this in historical perspective, Airmen were accomplishing the acceptance inspection on this very aircraft just nine days before President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas,” he remarked, adding that although complete records weren’t available for the entire 59 years, the aircraft has flown more than 3,000 recorded sorties, racking up more than 15,000 flying hours.

The aircraft has seen three engine variants: the original water-injected J57 engine, the TF33 (currently in use on the AWACS aircraft) and its current engine used today, the F108, which was originally installed on 7999 May 22, 1985.

“With the exception of a few general officers and chief master sergeants, the engines alone have served longer than any other Airmen,” remarked Hood. “It was around during Vietnam, the Cold War, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel, and more recently, operations defending NATO’s skies.”

In addition to spending its fair share of time at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, its assignments include McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas; Kadena Air Base, Japan, and Fairchild AFB, Washington, with the tanker’s final home at RAF Mildenhall, England, since November 2020. While here, 7999 has flown 178 sorties – almost half of which were the highest level of priority – and more than 1,000 flying hours, servicing 256 receivers with a total of more than 5.1 million pounds of fuel.

Impressive though its statistics are, these planes cannot fly themselves.

“This aircraft has been an important part of our growth as maintainers and operators,” recalled Hood. “Maintainers and crew members accomplished their first preflight inspections on this aircraft; crew members began their operational careers and upgraded on this aircraft; maintainers signed their first corrective action in the forms … petroleum, oils and lubricants Airmen completed their first refuel in this aircraft, and teams celebrated victories of long troubleshooting, tough fixes, safe deployment returns and long hours spend on alert,” he said.

Aircraft 7999 holds the well-known and loved “Wolff Pack” nose art, named in honor of Capt. Robert “Bob” Wolff, 100th Bomb Group and World War II pilot, now 101 years old.

Wolff was 18 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force following the attack on Pearl Harbor. By the time he was 21, he was a trained pilot on his way to England and the 100th Bomb Group, based at Thorpe Abbotts, or Station 139 as it was known.

“Bob and his crew fought in some of the most notorious air battles that the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ experienced during 1943, and it was on their eighth mission when they too joined the long list of casualties of this once infamous – and now legendary – 100th Bomb Group,” remarked Paley.

The 100th ARW historian shared that Wolff was well-known for his outstanding flying skills and saving the lives of many of his men. He told of some of Wolff’s hair-raising experiences that the man himself shared during a video interview earlier in 2022, including his memories of being shot down several times, as well as becoming a prisoner of war.

“During our interview, Bob mentioned that before their final mission, his crew had decided to name their B-17 Flying Fortress ‘Wolff Pack,’ but they’d been shot down before they had a chance to paint the nose art on it. So, it was especially poignant for Bob and his wife Barbara to be present at a 100th Bomb Group reunion in New Orleans, Sept. 24, 2015, to see the nose art at last displayed on a 100th ARW tanker. You can only imagine how emotional that moment must have been for this war hero and his wife,” said Paley. “He also shared that he later named his fishing boat ‘Wolff Pack 2,’ and his son now has a fishing boat named ‘Wolff Pack 3.’”

Though 7999 is now officially retired and has taken its last flight back to the U.S. and its final resting place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona – otherwise known as “the bone yard” – the Wolff Pack nose art itself will live on at RAF Mildenhall, as it will be transferred to another tanker waiting to bear its legacy nose art. After the ceremony, maintainers, aircrew, and other Team Mildenhall members had the opportunity to sign their names on the jet before it departed.

“The longevity of the mighty KC-135 is a true statement to the maintainers, operators and teams across the wing,” remarked Hood. “Thank you for your role in keeping this aircraft in the fight. Today we say farewell to a partner, and bid 7999 a safe flight, as she hosted so many fini flights during her service. While this aircraft has refueled the tanks of many U.S. and allied aircraft during its 59-year service, it’s also refueled us – with the promise of a new career, with strong bonds of teamwork, and with a hope and passion for making our Air Force even better in the future.”