'Conquerors of the North' reunites around KC-46A tanker

Military pioneers of aerial refueling admire their modern successor

August 25, 2016 in Our Community

Brad Bradshaw (left) and Cyrus Brown, among the veterans who flew the venerable KC-97 aircraft during the 1950s and '60s, tour the KC-46A tanker as part of the 44th Aerial Refueling Squadron’s final planned reunion.

Marian Lockhart

It’s not uncommon for U.S. Air Force members to tour the KC-46 program.

But it is rare when a group of senior military veterans, pioneers of aerial refueling who flew the venerable KC-97 tanker in the 1950's and 60's, ask to learn about Boeing’s new KC-46A Pegasus tanker.

The 44th Air Refueling Squadron was hosted for two days recently to Boeing sites in the Puget Sound area. The veterans visit to the Seattle area, where their KC-97s were built, was fitting for them, since this year marks the aging squadron members last reunion.

During their visit, the veterans ‘kicked the tires’ of the KC-46A tanker and regaled the Boeing team with stories from their past as they looked into the future of air refueling.

"It was great to visit Boeing and see the KC-46 first-hand," said Cyrus Brown, a 44th Air Refueling Squadron member who organized the group’s memorable final reunion. "The KC-46’s multirole capability is most impressive."

The 44th earned its nickname, “Conquerors of the North,” in October 1958, when the entire squadron deployed with 21 aircraft and equipment on a 90-day Strategic Air Command mission. During the deployment they were credited with saving both a B-47 Stratojet and a B-52 Stratofortress by providing emergency air refueling.

“The squadron prevented certain disaster for the two bombers,” said Brad Bradshaw, a 44th Air Refueling Squadron member who served as the KC-97’s navigator. “This victory earned the squadron the unofficial name, ‘Conquerors of the North’,” he said.

According to the Boeing’s history website, the company built 888 C-97 Stratofreighters between 1947 and 1958. Of those, 219 were adapted as KC-97E and F tankers and 592 were KC-97G models. It was succeeded by Boeing’s KC-135 Stratotanker, still in operation.

Sean Martin, Boeing Test & Evaluation KC-46 chief aerial refueling operator, Mike Hafer, KC-46 Global Sales and Marketing manager, and Danny Wright, KC-46 chief mechanic, talked to squadron members about the KC-46’s features, including the new air refueling operator station and advanced lighting systems.

Noting that Boeing has more than 20,000 veterans and reservists in its workforce, while thousands of other employees volunteer to support the families of those who serve, Hafer said, “We were honored to host the 44th Air Refueling Squadron.”

By Kymberly Vandlac

Two historic Boeing airplanes carry out a strategic mission as a KC-97 Stratofreighter (right) refuels a B-47 Stratojet (left), the nations' first swept-wing multi-engine medium bomber.


Mike Hafer (left), KC-46 Global Sales and Marketing, and veteran 44th Aerial Refueling Squadron member Brad Bradshaw discuss the lighting abilities designed in the KC-46A tanker.

Marian Lockhart