Historic FISTA tanker retires from Edwards
By Senior Airman Jet Fabara
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - Eventually, every plane must see its
end, and after approximately 49 years of service to the Air Force, the
Air Force Flight Test Center's NKC-135E, tail number 55-3135, refueling
tanker was retired in late September.
According to Lt. Col. Charles Kelly, 370th Flight Test Squadron chief of
standard evaluation, the aircraft had been here for at least 15 years.
"It was originally paid for in 1955, and what made it special was that
it was the second oldest Air Force aircraft flying up to its
retirement," said Lt. Col. Dave Fedors, 370th FLTS test pilot.
The reason this tanker was so unique was because it was modified with
the majority of the windows on one side, and it was originally done for
the above-ground nuclear testing and instrumentation package, said
Although it was reverted to its original function, the original
structure necessary to keep the windows on one side remained.
It wasn't until 1995 that the aircraft was remodified for the Flying
Infrared Signatures Technology Aircraft, or FISTA program, according to
the Edwards History Office.
According to the History Office, the FISTA program began in 1974 to
provide calibrated infrared measurements of aircraft in order to
understand the phenomenology of aircraft signatures.
In addition to the FISTA mission, the aircraft played a multi-role
function for air refueling certifications and general tanker support,
said Colonel Fedors.
"It played an important role as an airplane that was used for the air
refueling certifications for just about every major program for the last
20 years and probably before that," added Colonel Fedors. "We have
pictures of this tanker refueling the YC-17, YC-14, the Airborne Laser
747, F/A-22, the Joint Strike Fighter, so you can say this tanker has
had a long and proud history."
The tanker's last mission just recently involved helping NASA document
the re-entry of the Genesis spacecraft -- the spacecraft that spent
about three years in orbit -- Sept. 8.
From Edwards, the aircraft was sent to the Aerospace Maintenance and
Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., until it is
"It's sad to see it go, but 50 years is a pretty good service life on a
piece of equipment and we'll find a way to continue the mission," said