by Karen Abeyasekere
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
11/2/2015 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on what it takes to reassign an aircraft.
Aircraft tail number 10267 became officially "Square-D Away" Oct. 21,
2015, when a KC-135 Stratotanker, formerly from McConnell Air Force
Base, Kansas, underwent the final stage of a transformation to become
reassigned to RAF Mildenhall's fleet.
After facilitating necessary structural repairs on the jet during an
isochronal inspection, which is similar to a major tune-up on a vehicle,
the process of removing the old markings and applying the Square D
tailflash then began.
From start to finish, the process of reassigning the tanker took 112
hours, with a minimum of three Airmen working on the tailflash
throughout the first 40 hours, according to Tech. Sgt. Mark James, 100th
Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Structural Maintenance NCO in charge.
Previously, the tail was removed as part of a fin-fold, to fix a cracked
bracket discovered during the inspection, and it was decided that the
easiest way to accomplish this was to temporarily remove the tail.
James explained that hangar and aircraft preparation takes six hours;
sanding and masking, six hours; primer application, eight hours,
including six hours curing time; applying the top coat, 14 hours,
including 12 hours curing time; masking and stencil placement, four
hours, followed by a two-hour application of flat black - the square
painted box on top of which the 'D' decal is placed, which together form
the Square D. Finally, there's a full cure of a further 72 hours.
Once the hangar is prepared for aircraft painting, the markings from the
previous base must be removed by mechanical means, such as sanding,
said Tech. Sgt. Jake Bond, 100th MXS Corrosion Control NCO in charge.
"This is the most laborious part of the process and usually where we run
into the problem of finding another base's markings under the previous
base's markings," commented Bond. "Next, we apply an epoxy primer,
followed by a polyurethane gray topcoat over the areas that were
He added that stencils are then applied, which will be painted on along with the decals.
"The final step is applying the 'Square D' on either side of the
vertical fin. It takes about nine to 10 people across three different
shifts, plus a weekend crew, to complete the process," Bond said.
The Square D - an infamous part of 100th Air Refueling Wing's heritage
with the 100th Bombardment Group - is a decal made by the corrosion
"We have a machine in corrosion that cuts out the decals on vinyl
stickers. It takes about 30 minutes per side once it's taped off,"
explained James, describing how they follow technical order guidance to
ensure it's placed in the exact spot on the tail, using rulers to
measure exactly how far from the top of the tail and front to back.
Bond added that the corrosion control shop has two machines which aid in
producing decals. One is specifically for producing large-scale graphic
decals such as the stars and stripes and RAF Mildenhall's station patch
located at the tip of the vertical fin.
"This machine is also used for production of the 100th ARW heritage
patch, applied to the nose of the aircraft," he said. "Our other machine
is a vinyl plotter, used to cut lettering and stencils - such as the
white letter 'D' applied to the fin. Both machines are controlled from a
single desktop computer with graphic design software, and the placement
of all markings is governed by specific dimensions given in both
technical orders and Air Force instructions."
Even when moving from base to base, aircraft keep the tail number
assigned to them when rolled off the production line for their entire
James explained that the purpose of swapping a jet between bases has to
do with keeping it from possibly staying in a highly corrosive
environment for the duration of its service life.
"Some bases are in more corrosive areas, so aircraft are swapped out to
less corrosive bases to keep them from rusting," he said.
As with Airmen, aircraft are on a schedule and swapped out after a
certain amount of time on station, which means while the 100th ARW
received a "new" tanker, it replaced another which rotated out, so the
number of aircraft in RAF Mildenhall's fleet remains the same.
Having the chance to be part of the process which marks a tanker as the
100th ARW's own, by application of the Square D to its tail, lengthens
RAF Mildenhall's heritage, and instills a sense of pride in Airmen
working on the aircraft.
"I remember reading about the 100th Bomb Group's missions during World
War II as a teenager," recalled Bond. "I had no idea that one day I
would be a part of that unit's lineage, so for me to be a direct part of
applying the 100th ARW and heritage markings to each KC-135 that is
newly assigned here is quite surreal.
"There's an immense amount of coordination that has to happen for each
of these tailflash changes. It's a good feeling to be a part of that, to
see the final product which will be seen by other pilots and people all
over this part of the world," he added proudly. "Whenever I see a photo
of an aircraft being refueled by a boom with '100th ARW' on the
ruddevators, I think, 'Hey - I probably know who put those on there!"