One of a kind love affair: Former crew chief reunited with his favorite aircraft

  • Published
  • By Mike W. Ray
  • Tinker Public Affairs
A lot of guys have fond memories of a particular car they once owned. A retired Air Force crew chief who has a son working at Tinker has had a 54-year love affair with one particular aircraft.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Henry B. "Hank" Dougherty recently drove from his home in Montgomery, Ala., to Tinker for a reunion with his "baby" -- a KC-135 Stratotanker, tail number 58-0016.

Then-Technical Sergeant Dougherty was the crew chief assigned to pick up that aircraft from the factory shortly after Boeing Airplane Co. finished building it and released it to the Air Force. The sergeant was among the crew that delivered the airplane to Fairchild AFB, near Spokane, Wash., on March 10, 1959.

During the four years and four months tanker #58-0016 was assigned to Fairchild, the crew chief and his Stratotanker compiled an enviable reputation. On several occasions the airplane landed with no entries in the flight discrepancy records other than favorable comments from the flight crew. In those 52 months #58-0016 compiled approximately 1,725 flying hours with only one chargeable late takeoff and one cancellation.

As crew chief, or aircraft maintenance technician, Sergeant Dougherty was responsible for the maintenance and care of the aircraft. He was responsible for inspecting, servicing and coordinating all repair actions on the jet. He traveled with the plane on deployments, often inspecting and servicing the plane before flight, then inspecting, refueling and repairing it post-flight.

The primary function of KC-135s at Fairchild was to support B-52s in the 92nd Bomb Wing at the Washington base. Besides aerial refueling, Stratotanker #58-0016 also performed various other functions, including Emergency War Order, cargo, VIP and passenger missions.

In addition, Chief Dougherty and #58-0016 were the stars of an Air Force movie shot at Fairchild that initially was classified. The film, "Operation Yo-Yo," depicted a day in the life of a KC-135 crew chief.

The sergeant received the Airman's Medal for an act of heroism in 1962 that involved #58-0016. While working outside the plane at Fairchild one day, he saw smoke billowing from the aft portion of the aircraft. The chief got everyone out of the plane and then suppressed the flames with an on-board fire extinguisher.

The partnership between the sergeant and #58-0016 was severed in 1963 when the airplane was transferred to Tinker Air Force Base and he lost track of her. "Separating us," the sergeant told the base newspaper, the Fairchild Times, "is like separating a cowboy from his horse."

Fast forward more than half a century: Hank Dougherty, now 79, retired after 27 years of active duty, including two tours during the Vietnam War. He has two sons, both of whom are DOD civilian employees; one of them works at Tinker.

A couple of months ago, Keith Dougherty, chief of the Deployment and Distribution Flight in the 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Tinker, learned from Gregory Ott of the 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron that his dad's favorite airplane was undergoing programmed depot maintenance here. Keith alerted his father and his older brother, Darrell Dougherty.

When #58-0016 neared completion of PDM and arrived at Bldg. 260 for Post Dock -- "right outside my back door," Keith Dougherty said -- Tom Martin of the 564th AMXS, the lead production supervisor in Post Dock, helped arrange a reunion between Chief Dougherty and the newly overhauled, repainted #58-0016.

The chief; his wife, Barbara; his two sons and a granddaughter "all came out to the jet," said Andrea Ismirle, the 564th Procedures and Analysis chief. "We were able to get aboard the aircraft for about an hour," she recalled, "and the retired chief master sergeant recounted stories from the days when he was the first crew-chief on that jet. The sons and their dad came out the next day, as well, to snap some more pictures."

"It meant a lot to Keith and me that we could have our father see his beloved KC-135 one more time," said Darrell Dougherty. "We learned many stories that we had never heard before. I know Dad thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity and the historical significance of the event."

The Air Force is a tradition in the Dougherty family. Hank, of course, had 27 years of service. Keith was born in a base hospital, spent six years on active duty and has worked at Tinker since 1978. Darrell retired from the Air Force in 1994 as a senior master sergeant; today he works as the software development team lead for the Headquarters Air Force Security Forces Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.