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Iowa ANG KC-135 painted with 75th anniversary art

Iowa ANG KC-135

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Statotanker assigned to the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa is painted with a 75th anniversary paint scheme. The design is a facsimile of the unit’s F-16 tail flash flown by the Sioux City, Iowa based Air Guard unit during the 1990s. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Iowa ANG KC-135

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Statotanker assigned to the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa is painted with a 75th anniversary paint scheme. The design is a facsimile of the unit’s F-16 tail flash flown by the Sioux City, Iowa based Air Guard unit during the 1990s. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

75th anniversary tail flash painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021.

Aircraft maintainers from the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing, tip the tail on a U.S. Air Force KC-135 in the main hangar at the Sioux City, Iowa based unit on November 12, 2020. After removing the tail it will be stenciled and painted with 75th anniversary commemorative markings. U.S. Air National Guard photo: Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

75th anniversary tail flash painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021.

Paint crew from the Air National Guard Paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa stencil and tape the tail on a U.S. Air Force KC-135 in the fuel cell hangar at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa on December 15, 2020. The tail flash is being painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

75th anniversary tail flash painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021.

Paint crew from the Air National Guard Paint facility in Sioux City, Iowa stencil and tape the tail on a U.S. Air Force KC-135 in the fuel cell hangar at the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa on December 15, 2020. The tail flash is being painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Painting the tail on a Iowa KC-135

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 assigned to the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, Iowa is being painted with a 75th anniversary paint scheme on December 17, 2020. The design is a facsimile of the unit’s F-16 tail flash flown by Sioux City, Iowa based Air Guard unit during the 1990s. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Brig. Gen. Larry Christensen and Col. (ret.) Scott Plambeck  F-16 pilots

Brig. Gen. Larry Christensen and Col. (ret.) Scott Plambeck were among the first F-16 pilots with the Iowa Air National Guard’s 185th Fighter Wing when the unit transitioned from the A-7 Corsair in 1991. The pair are credited with conceptualizing the iconic 185th Bat Tail Flash for the F-16 that is now embossed on the tail of one of the 185th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135 aircraft. The tail was painted in commemoration of the unit’s 75th anniversary in 2021. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot

Iowa ANG F-16s

Three U.S. Air Force F-16’s assigned to the 185th Fighter Wing, Sioux City, Iowa on the ramp at Cold Lake, Alberta, CA. participate in the multinational air exercise “Maple Flag” on June 12, 2001. The Iconic Gothic Bat tail flash, created by 185th graphic artist Technical Sgt. Frank Rosales, proudly displays the unit’s nickname “Bats” that was earned when the unit was in Vietnam. 185th ARW Photo by Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot/ Released

SOUX CITY, Iowa -- The blank space on the nose or tail of an aircraft beckons to be filled. For as long as there have been airplanes, aircrew and aircraft maintainers have felt compelled to paint stuff on them.

Historically nose art was created as a way to christen an aircraft and as a way to boost morale.  Airmen from the Iowa National Guard recently unveiled their latest aircraft design as an homage to their unit’s history.

The paint scheme includes a huge retro “bat” tail flash along with a 75th anniversary diamond as nose art, celebrating the unit’s milestone anniversary in 2021. This is the first time the Air Wing has attempted a giant size tail flash on one of their KC-135 aircraft.  

According to Chief Master Sgt. Eric Kelley, 185th Equipment Maintenance Flight Superintendent, his crew wanted to pick a jet that had recently gone through programed depot maintenance.

Kelley said picking an aircraft that had just gone through PDM ensured a clean canvas on which to work. He added the timing would also ensure some longevity of the design.

 “We will essentially be able to fly this aircraft for five years with this paint scheme on it before we have to send it back,” Kelley commented, talking about how long the art work will remain on the aircraft.

Getting the design from concept to reality was not as simple as putting brush to canvas. After getting the go-ahead from 185th Air Refueling Wing Commander Col. Mark Muckey, finishing the aircraft concept and design was up to 185th aircraft maintainers. The plan called for painting the rudder completely black, which meant the entire 25 foot tail section had to be removed. According to Kelley, the single color idea would also make weighing and balancing the rudder easier before reattaching it to the tail.

“It has to be balanced so when the aircraft flies through the air, they don’t get what is called rudder flutter,” Kelley said, “that’s not a good thing on an airplane.”

Once the tail was balanced and reattached, crew members from the Sioux City based Air National Guard Paint Facility completed stenciling and painting.

The paint scheme includes a diamond near the nose of the aircraft representing the unit’s 75th anniversary. The diamond is surrounded by silhouettes depicting each aircraft flown by the unit since its beginnings in 1946. The first aircraft flown by the unit is illustrated by a North American P-51 Mustang.

A thunderbolt is included with the diamond in deference to aircraft flown by the unit during the 1950’s. Following the flying squadrons activation in 1951, many of the unit’s first jet aircraft had the word “thunder” in their name. Aircraft like the Republic F-84 “Thunderjet” and “Thunderstreak,” often included a yellow “thunderbolt” in aircraft paint schemes.

The bat tail flash on the KC-135 is a facsimile of what appeared on the unit’s F-16 fighter aircraft during the 1990’s. The bat moniker was originally adopted following the unit’s yearlong deployment to Vietnam in 1968-69, while flying the North American F-100 Super Sabre. Many of the missions during their time at Phu Cat Air Base were flown during nighttime hours, thus earning the “Bat” call sign.

Even though the unit flew the F-100 during the time of the Vietnam deployment, variations of bats didn’t appear on 185th aircraft until the unit began flying the A-7 Corsair in 1977.  The first bats on the A-7 were smaller and more subdued.

The larger “185th bat” tail flash made its first appearance on the unit’s F-16 fighter aircraft shortly after the 1991 conversion from the A-7. The iconic bat was originally created by 185th artist, Staff Sgt. Frank Rosalez, prior to the elimination of the graphics Air Force Specialty Code.

Being located in western Iowa many of the unit’s past emblems also included Native American depictions. The bottom of the commemorative tail flash also includes a line drawing of a Native American Chief. The concept was originally conceived by former 185th F-16 pilots, Brig. Gen. Larry Christensen and Col. (Ret.) Scott Plambeck. The chief has the words “Sioux City” stenciled in the headdress, similar to what appeared on the F-16.

The motivation for Airmen to paint designs on airplanes, as a way of showing unit pride and ownership is the same now as it has been from the beginning.  Kelley said people have been so motivated by this project that some had been working on their days off in order to get it completed. He added it was a lot of work but the project has already achieved its main purpose.

“People are enjoying it, it is something different” Kelly said, “None of this could get even happen without the awesome Airmen that we have here at the 185th.”

Editor’s note:

Colonel Shawn Streck, 185th Air Refueling Wing Maintenance Group Commander wishes to extend a thank you to everyone who had a hand in this tremendous effort. Streck says it took multiple levels of planning, coordination, and execution.

“I would like to extend a thank you to Colonel Muckey for challenging us to develop a distinguished symbol of the seventy-five years of success,” Streck said, “Many of the Airmen that initiated the development of this tribute to the 185th Air Refueling Wing won’t be able to see the unveiling as they are deployed this holiday season.”

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