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: 48-0053,-0074,-0090,-0099, -0107,-0109,/ 49-0293,-0321,-0331,-0348,-0352,-0361,-0364,-0367,-0369,-0372,-0380,-0382,-0384.

  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.

 (5)   A great shot of KB-50J 49-0293.  This photo was probably taken prior to the 431st moving to Biggs, or just shortly thereafter.  The 431st emblem is clearly visible on the tail, but during the early '60s that would be replaced with the the TAC patch superimposed over the "Lightning bolt" that would come to adorn all TAC aircraft.

431st Aerial Refueiling Squadron

(6)   49-389 was the last KB-50 at Biggs.  Robert R. Adair sent the following note: The aircraft was the last operational KB-50J in the AF and had been polished up prior to its departure for Wright Patterson and the AF Museum. The photo was taken with the remaining members of the 431st AREFS several days before its departure from Biggs, AFB near El Paso to Wright Patterson which occurred on February 15, 1965. I am the fourth person kneeling in the front row from the right side of the picture. After a period of time at the Museum, the aircraft was shipped to MacDill, AFB near Tampa, FL for static display. It was repainted in the color scheme of the 421st AREFS (Rainbow Squadron) and re-numbered as one of their aircraft.  (In 2018 this airframe was moved to the Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover, DL)

A good website for KB-50s is on the TAC Tankers Association site.

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Clifford Bossie

Page created 03-19-02

Updated 03-01-20