The US Air Force is bidding farewell to its long-serving refueling tanker, the KC-10 Extender, as the military shifts its focus to the more advanced KC-46 Pegasus. The KC-10, nicknamed “Big Sexy” for its sleek wing design, has been in service for 40 years, providing refueling and cargo capabilities for the Air Force. Despite being nearly 30 years younger than the KC-135, the Air Force has opted to phase out the KC-10 in favor of the newer Pegasus, which will provide increased flexibility, survivability, and battlefield data. The last KC-10 will fly out of Travis Air Force Base in California in September 2024.
The KC-10 is based on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and was first introduced into service in 1982, participating in several conflicts including the Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Although it has a smaller cargo capacity, the Pegasus offers increased capabilities and will be the most advanced refueling plane ever built. The plan is to have a 479-plane refueling fleet comprised of 300 KC-135s and 179 Pegasus planes.
The transition to the Pegasus has already begun, with Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey conducting its first sortie with the new tanker on January 4, 2023. The change brings bittersweet emotions for the crew of the 32nd ARS stationed there, as they’ve seen firsthand the incredible capabilities of the KC-10.
Although the Pegasus offers advanced warfighting capabilities, the legacy of the KC-10 won’t be forgotten by those who flew it. Donald Davis, chief boom operator at the 70th ARS at Travis AFB, said “A more capable aircraft may never be built compared to the KC-10A Extender. The range, fuel delivery, and cargo capability are second to none.” The KC-10 may be retiring, but its legacy will continue to be remembered and celebrated in the Air Force.