After nearly four decades of refueling aircraft around the world, in peacetime and war, the KC-10 Extender has begun its retirement.

A ceremony for the first KC-10 to be retired was held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey July 13. The retiring Extender taxied under an arcing spray of water, the traditional final salute, then flew to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona — the aircraft graveyard commonly known as “the Boneyard.”

The Air Force plans to retire the 59 KC-10s in its fleet in coming years, as the service brings on the new KC-46A Pegasus tanker to replace it.

This KC-10, with the tail number 86-0036, was in action for more than 33 years after entering service at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina in December 1986. It took part in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and then relocated to Travis Air Force Base in California for a few years. It permanently moved to McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in 1997.

Col. Scott Wiederholt, commander of the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, said at the ceremony that the farewell to the plane is both solemn and performed “with an immense amount of pride.”

“This aircraft, like all the aircraft in our KC-10 fleet, has served honorably and provided life-saving fuel to warfighters executing global reach,” he said. The KC-10 “ensured that all missions, whether combat, re-supply or humanitarian, were executed in a manner like no other nation in the world is capable of doing.”

This plane flew more than 33,000 flight hours, supporting missions across six continents and refueling more than 125,000 aircraft from 25 different countries, said wing historian Stuart Lockhart. Nearly 11,000 aircrew members have flown it, and another 12,000 took care of it.

The KC-10 most recently took part in the fight against the Islamic State as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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