431st Aerial Refueling Squadron (TAC)
Prior to the
emergence of the KC-97 and KC-135 aircraft as tankers, the
USAF had to make do with converting existing airframes.
The first aircraft chosen was the B-29 and the first method
was rather crude, consisting of towing a hose behind the
tanker, while the receiver used a grappling hook to snare the
hose and then reel it in. As can be imagined this was a
cumbersome method. Two other methods were developed: the
use of the "flying boom" and the "probe and drogue" (or
"basket") method. As time went by, the Strategic Air
Command (SAC) chose the boom as their standard and the
Tactical Air Command (TAC) generally used the "basket", though
some TAC aircraft (like the F-105) could use either. SAC
used KB-29s until replaced by the purpose built types (KC-97
and KC-135) and TAC used KB-50s, which were all equipped with
the drogue. The KB-50J aircraft were converted
from B-50D, TB-50D, RB-50E, RB-50F and RB-50G airframes.
KB-50Ks were conversions of TB-50Hs. PACAF and USAFE
also had KB-50s.
The 431st AREFS was formed on January 8, 1957 at Turner AFB, Georgia. Equipped with KB-50J and KB-50K the unit became fully operational in June of that year. In July of 1958 the 431st came under control of the 4505th Aerial Refueling Wing (head quartered at Langley AFB, Virginia). The following July the unit moved to Biggs AFB. For the next several years the 431st along with her sister KB-50 units supported TAC operations throughout the world, but the time would come when SAC and the ANG would take over that function. In October 1963 the 4505th was deactivated and the 431st AREFS came under control of the 4440th Air Delivery Group. By March of 1965, the 431st was the last KB-50 unit and on the 8th of that month it too closed up shop.
The KB-50J (49-0372)
on display at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson,
Arizona last operated with the 431st AREFS. It
illustrates the simple markings that were in use by TAC units
at the time, which consisted of the TAC patch placed
over the yellow TAC "lightning bolt" on the vertical fin.
Known serial numbers for 431st airframes:
Known losses: 49-0328 5 Mar, 1961.
Biggs AFB usually had
two opportunities for non Air Force personnel to visit and
photograph. One was naturally, Armed Forces Day.
The other was an event called "Kids Day". On one of
these visits there was a KB-50 with scaffolding placed around
the nose. A viewer would be about eight feet in the air,
but to a small child if felt more like a thousand. Being
about eight, I felt like I was going to fall to the tarmac
with a big splat. Another memory was of a KB-50 crash
one night during the summer of 1964 (18 August, 1964).
My family saw a news bulletin and ran out to the back fence to
have a "look see". Our house backed on the desert and
Biggs was about four miles away with a clear view. The
fire was fairly bright. but would flare up spectacularly when
a section of magnesium would ignite. The next morning I
climbed on the roof with a pair of binoculars and all that was
visible was the tail cocked over at an angle. The rest
of the aircraft was not visible.
(1) KB-50J 48-0123 acting as a
flying gas station for three 322 Fighter Day Group F-100Cs,
based at Foster AFB, Texas. The three Huns represent all
three squadrons in the group: 54-1848 is from the 450th
Fighter Day Squadron, 53-1774 is from the 451st FDS and
54-1825 is from the 452nd. The hand of cards is over a
band that is in the various squadron colors: Red for the
450th, yellow for the 451st and green for the 452nd. The
322nd FDG gave up their Huns and disbanded in 1958, so this
photo dates prior to the move to Biggs.
(2) A panorama from an old post card showing several 431st KB-50s with the Franklin Mountains to the west of Biggs AFB as a backdrop. The aircraft to the right fore ground is 49-0372, she doesn't look too different then (about 1964) than she does today.
(3) 49-0367 and another unidentified KB-50 at Biggs in 1964.
(4) 49-0372 at Pima in September of 2001. The rudder fabric has been replaced, the J47s are missing from the jet pods, but the refueling gear is still aboard.
A good website for KB-50s is on the TAC Tankers Association
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