They could survive the rigors of military service, but retirement was hell on their old frames. So MacDill Air Force Base is losing two of its most iconic landmarks — static displays of a KB-50J Superfortress and an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
The two aircraft, at Memorial Park on base, were victims of Tampa’s corrosive sun and salt air, according to base officials. Maintaining the old war birds became too costly and time consuming, so they are being dismantled and shipped out and the park. The park will be expanded to take in their footprints.
"The base commander of MacDill at the time, Col. Charles T. Ohlinger III, and the airpark committee had a vision to expand the park with aircraft to represent each era of the base’s history," Steven Ove, 6th Air Mobility Wing base historian, said in an article on the base website. "Once the landscaping of the park was finished, the KB-50J found its way to MacDill in late 1995."
After base operations ramped up following the 9/11 attacks, the maintainers assigned to care for the aircraft in the airpark were pulled, leaving maintenance and care to be contracted out.
"Maintaining the historic static display aircraft in our highly corrosive environment is destructive to these irreplaceable artifacts," Ove said. "Additionally, the aircraft needs to be restored every so often and it isn’t very cost-effective for the base."
Aside from the aesthetic loss, shipping out the two aircraft means more base history will disappear.
The Superfortress, based on the design of B-29 bombers like those that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was converted to a refueling tanker and retrofitted with jet engines that helped boost its speed.
The plane has a significant history, according to the base, because it is known as the oldest remaining tanker modified for air refueling and was delivered to the Air Force in December 1950.
The Superfortress was a forerunner of MacDill’s fleet of KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets, which are no spring chickens themselves. Flown by the 6th Air Mobility Wing and the 927th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill, the Stratotankers first rolled off Boeing’s assembly lines when President Eisenhower was in office.
The Superfortress is in the process of being taken apart and when that work is complete, it will be shipped off to the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the only Air Force field museum dedicated to preserving airlift and air refueling heritage.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon represents a time when MacDill was a fighter base. Still intact, it will be shipped off to the Arizona Air National Guard headquarters in Phoenix, where the arid weather will do less damage.
Once the planes are gone, Memorial Park will be transformed into a "comprehensive community park that will host a broader and more historically accurate heritage display while also focusing on low maintenance and cost sustainability," according to the base website.
There are plans to replace the current static display aircraft with weatherproof displays of miniature models of the eight most important aircraft flown at MacDill.
Plans also call for the park to host a covered pavilion that will serve as a central location for future ceremonies and base events.
"The previous committee that created the Memorial Park set the foundation for this vision," Ove said. "We want to make sure they understand that what they did was very important and we know they’ll be proud of the park once we finish this project."
Base officials estimate that the community park will be completed by summer.
The Pentagon last week announced the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
Spc. Avadon A. Chaves, 20, of Turlock, Calif., died Dec. 20 at Al Asad, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, from a non-combat related incident. Chaves was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Fort Bliss, Texas. The incident is under investigation.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 48 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the followup, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 42 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman