Every time a KC-46 tanker flies to a new home, it’s cause for celebration. But perhaps none has ever been more touching than flyaway day on Feb. 7, when Boeing honored a Gold Star family.
Special guests Jane and Bob Hughes watched the newest KC-46A take off from Boeing Field in Seattle to Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire. The couple lost their daughter, Staff Sgt. Danielle Hughes Crone, in 2010.
“She was very outgoing, and she really enjoyed the Air Force,” said Jane Hughes. Danielle was a boom operator on a KC-135 tanker stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. She served through eight deployments supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Pam Valdez, vice president of Boeing Air Force Services, got to know the family during a chance meeting. “When she said her daughter was a boom operator I said, ‘Oh Jane, we have to get you to a delivery ceremony in honor of your daughter.’”
Valdez awarded the family with a special pin honoring the number of hours a service member has flown on a Boeing aircraft. “On behalf of the Boeing Company, we’d like to present you and Bob with a 2,000-hour pin, which is a very rare pin in this industry, and we hope that you wear it proudly in honor of Danielle,” Valdez said.
Maj. Gen. Roger Williams, Mobilization assistant to the U.S. Transportation Command Commander, also thanked the Hughes family and invited them aboard the KC-46A for a tour prior to takeoff. Jane Hughes had toured the KC-135 years earlier and said she’s excited that service members are getting an updated tanker.
“They’re moving up in the world, definitely — very nice,” she said.
Valdez noted the unique opportunity for the Boeing team to honor a Gold Star family. “It’s more about the people side of the business and keeping our hearts and soul in the business all the way to the families who will be Gold Star families forever. And so it’s our honor to incorporate them into this delivery ceremony,” she said.
As the 31st KC-46A taxied for takeoff, Jane Hughes pointed to an eagle circling overhead. Whenever she sees an eagle, she calls it a sign from Danielle. And as the tanker took to the air, Jane and Bob watched with cameras pointed to the sky.
“It’s a really nice plane. I think all the boom operators will really like it,” Jane Hughes said.