Phantom 109 a KC-135 ghost story

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Vincent De Groot
  • 185th Air Refueling Wing

Sioux City, Iowa -- This story is about how a ghost story led to some pretty cool nose art on a U.S. Air Force KC-135. The ghoulish nose art on tail number 58-0109 shows a boney fingered Phantom pointing as if he is claiming his next victim. The dark character is shown sitting on a KC-135 boom wing while silhouetted by a full moon as if he is along for the ride.

The Iowa Air Guard KC-135 was dubbed “The Phantom” by 185th Air Refueling Wing crew chiefs after it arrived in Sioux City in 2011.

For context, Air Force maintainers often refer to a particular airframe by the last few numbers of the aircraft tail number. In this case 58-0109 was simply shortened to “109,” or one-o-nine.  The tail number is also significant to the story.

Senior Master Sgt. Lance Larson was one of the first crew chiefs assigned to the aircraft after it came to Iowa from the Mississippi Air National Guard’s 186th Air Refueling Wing. The 186th was an Air Refueling Wing, then it was not, now it is again but that is entirely different story.

After 109 arrived in Iowa, Larson said they had in mind to name the aircraft “Southern Bell,” until they were told a bizarre story from its former caretakers.

Larson said he was told by members of the 186th about the haunted airplane that was once flown at the Meridian Air Guard unit. As the story goes the 186th ARW security forces called the aircraft’s crew chiefs to the flight line late in the evening to fix a problem. According to legend, both of the aircrafts auxiliary power units mysteriously started late one night and were left running, long after everyone had gone home.

Larson was lead to believe it was the recently acquired tail number that he had been assigned as the crew chief, tail number 109 that had the phantom APU start.

After doing a little ghost busting however it may be that 109 was not the haunted aircraft after all. According to 186th ARW Command Chief, Darren McMullen the ghost story about 109 may actually be a case of mistaken identity.

McMullen was a crew chief in the Meridian Guard unit prior to 2011, he said he was familiar with the incident but he said it was a different tail number.

McMullen was able to confirm that 186th crew chiefs were called to power off the APUs of one of the unit’s aircraft in the middle of the night. McMullen said however, that the tail number of the “haunted” KC-135 was actually 58-0004. How the APUs were started, according to McMullen remains a mystery.

McMullen added that tail number 0004 is now being flown by the 117th Air Refueling Wing in Birmingham, Ala. The good news is the 185th may not be the owner of a haunted KC-135 after all.

While 109 may not have an interesting ghost story, Larson said Air National Guard crew chiefs spend enough of their life assigned to an airframe that they develop a unique sense of ownership.  

The sense of ownership is encouraged to the point that each Iowa guard KC-135 has the crew chief's names painted on the aircraft. Crew Chiefs Matthew Eiten, Max Edwards, Andrew Donnelly, Arion Huntely, Wyatt Stucky all have their names proudly displayed on the side of tail number 109.

Larson added that they often get comments about the unit’s clean and mechanically sound aircraft as they deploy around the world.

According to Larson it is the sense of ownership, like making some cool nose art, even if it comes with a creepy story that helps foster a sense of pride in workmanship. Larson said that sense of pride is often an important part of keeping the aircraft flying and maintaining much sought after aircraft mission capable rates.