Those were the days — the Air Fete at RAF Mildenhall still in its pomp, and a more-than-usually spirited display expected from the host unit. For years this had fallen to the 10th Airborne Command and Control Squadron with its EC-l35Hs, but in 1992 it was all change. On 1 February that year, the 100th Air Refueling Wing was reestablished at the Suffolk base, initially to assume responsibility for the KC-135 Stratotankers deployed to support the European Tanker Task Force. However, there was also to be a new departure. The 100th ARW was to have its own permanently-based fleet of KC-l35Rs, and Air Fete ’92 was to welcome the first of them. In front of an audience including wartime 100th BG veterans, present to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Army Air Force’s arrival in Britain, KC-I35R 58-0100 flew in from Lakenheath to open Saturday’s show, proudly bearing on its tail fin the famous ‘D in a square’ emblem. It was a moment of special significance.
This wasn’t the I00th’s first return to British shores. As a B-47E Stratojet unit, the 100th Bomb Wing — re-activated within Strategic Air Command on the first day of 1956 — had been amongst those making alert deployments to UK bases. Nor was it the first time the ‘numberplate’ had been attached to a tanker unit. After spending a decade between I966 and ’76 as the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, flying U-2s and drones, it became the 100th Air Refueling Wing, operating KC-I35s in support of the 9th SRW’s SR-7Is and U-2s until the unit was disbanded in I983.
In its new Mildenhall-based guise, the I00th ARW received that first KC-I35R just a day before Air Fete ’92, on 22 May. Fittingly, the unit’s flying squadron, the 35Ist Air Refueling Squadron, also had ‘Bloody Hundredth’ heritage.
Left: Part of the 100th ARW KC-I35R fleet, 58-0086 in the foreground showing the distinctive ‘D in a square’ tail markings. USAF
Far left: A 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-I35R replenishing a quartet of 492nd Fighter Squadron F-I5Es. Jamie Hunter/Aviacom
As the 351st Bomb Squadron, it had been part of the wartime 100th BG.
A major change occurred in November 1998 when the European Tanker Task Force disbanded, its mission of providing air refuelling support in Europe now taken on entirely by the 100th ARW. To this end, the wing now had 15
KC-I35Rs, and it retains this strength today. Wherever US and coalition forces have been involved operationally in the past 20 years, the Mildenhall-based tankers have been there too. Today’s I00th ARW is a more than worthy successor to its famous forebear.