Experts from Boeing have offered to join Air Mobility Command's investigation into why a KC-135 tanker with three Fairchild airmen crashed in Kyrgyzstan last Friday.
The aircraft manufacturer made the KC-135 back in 1963 and has the contract to make the next generation of aerial refuelers, the KC-46A.
The tanker that crashed in Kyrgyzstan was relatively young by KC-135 standards. It was one of the last refuelers to roll off the Boeing assembly line back in 1963 and since that time has been stripped down and fully renovated with modern jet engines and avionics. The plane had just arrived at the Manas Transit Center and had only been on the ground for one day before its fateful flight.
"Any time there is an aviation accident, the Air Force takes great pains to get the information out so we can continue to be safe as we refuel freedom," 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander Colonel Brian Newberry said at a press conference Sunday.
The Defense Department released the names of the air crew killed in the crash Sunday. Captains Mark Voss and Victoria Pinckney were piloting the tanker while Tech Sergeant Herman Mackey III was the boom operator.
Fairchild officials are not saying if Voss, the aircraft commander, or his co-pilot Capt. Pinckney had time to radio that something was wrong before their plane came apart five miles above Kyrgyzstan. Col. Newberry did confirm 92nd air crews would keep flying out of Manas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"Overseas they are known as "Liberandos" and their mission is to deliver and these brave airmen were heading south on a mission to fuel freedom for our great nation," he said.
Weather and visibility were not apparent factors in Friday's crash. Most KC-135 crashes happen during landings and takeoffs but this crew was already at their cruising altitude at the time of the mishap.
In fact, in its history as a tanker base, Fairchild has had four fatal KC-135 mishaps prior to last Friday and all but one involved a crash during takeoff or landing. In the overall history of the KC-135 there were at least two recorded cases of tankers exploding in mid-air during flight.
In 1971, a KC-135 exploded in mid-air near Madrid-Torrejon Air Force Base. Five airmen were killed in the crash, later attributed to an explosion in the number one fuel tank. In 1982 a KC-135 crashed near Greenwood, Ill., killing the four man air crew and all 23 passengers on board. That crash was later attributed to a fuel pump being allowed to run dry, leading to overheating which in turn caused fuel vapors to ignite.
Later this month, four local aviators from Felts Field will be honoring Voss, Pinckney and Mackey when the fly a four-ship flight of Stearman biplanes from Felts Field in the missing man formation over the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade.