Aviation Historian 18
-
R.Hopkins III - The Speckled Trout from Moses Lake
Photographed in its new scheme at Andrews AFB in Maryland on April 2, 1962, ’3126 awaits its next VIP mission. With it being the height of the Cold War, one wonders how many generals and politicans who travelled on it asked why the most striking aspect of its new colour scheme was red...
... which may have affected the decision to repaint ’3126 in the same basic scheme but with the bright red replaced with blue, more in keeping with its USAF VIP role, as seen here at Andrews on May 10, 1964. This scheme was also soon replaced, being deemed too similar to that worn by the VC-137s of the USAF’s Special Air Mission.
Still wearing the “Speckled Trout” scheme from its days operating with the USAF’s Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB during 1966-75, ’3126 languishes in the baking sun at the Military Aircraft Storage & Disposition Center at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona shortly before it was struck off charge and scrapped in 1978.
In 1961 officials deemed the all-silver military appearance of '3126 (with high-visibility orange bands which quickly became tatty) to be inappropriate for a high-prestige VIP transport, and ordered the aircraft to be painted in a more elegant red, white and bare-metal scheme with blue flashes on the white engine nacelles, as seen here.
Boeing KC-135A serial 55-3126 was rolled out of the Boeing plant at Renton, Washington, on March 29, 1957, making its first flight on May 17 the same year. It was christened City of Moses Lake, where Boeing’s flight test centre was located. On June 25, 1957, Boeing handed '3126 over to the USAF, and it departed for Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio the following day.
With everything hanging down, э3126 taxies in at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, following its southbound flight from Westover AFB during Operation Long Legs on November 11-12, 1957. The name City of Moses Lake had been removed by this time, and was probably only carried for a very short period until '3126 arrived at Wright-Patterson in June 1957.
An honour guard waits as '3126 arrives at Taipei, Formosa, in October 1958 with the USA’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles aboard for discussions with Chiang Kai-shek to resolve the Quemoy-Matsu Crisis. The primary entry and exit point for passengers flying aboard ’3126 was via air stairs through the main cargo door in the forward fuselage, seen open here.
Just visible in this photograph of '3126 are the high-visibility bands it wore on its nose and rear fuselage/fin between 1958 and 1961, when they were removed and the aircraft was repainted in a new colour scheme.
The interior of ’3126 was improved over time, the accommodation becoming more in line with the civil aircraft configurations of the day, including the incorporation of cabin bulkheads, airline-style seats and overhead baggage storage.
The somewhat spartan sleeping accommodation available aboard ’3126 during its early years of service.
The galley included two small stoves and other culinary essentials. Meals were prepared from scratch aboard the aircraft, rather than on the ground for reheating in flight. A dedicated flight steward - in white jacket of course - was responsible for cooking and serving the meals on USAF-embossed fine china.
“Old Iron Pants” - aka “The Cigar” - loved to fly, and would often take the controls from either seat on the flightdeck, especially on long-distance flights, giving the regular crew a welcome break. LeMay would also make regular take-offs and landings while flying aboard ’3126.
The state-of-the-art galley aboard ’3126 after one of its refurbishments to bring it more in line with contemporary airliner standards. The small dinner table was located a few feet from the stove and could accommodate four diners at a time.
Early seating and dining accommodation aboard ’3126 was fairly primitive, with tables doubling as work surfaces. Additional - and in all likelihood inadequate - soundproof padding was added throughout the cabin; a vital necessity given the extremely high noise levels inside the fuselage of a standard USAF KC-135A tanker.
Flying for “Old Iron Pants”required consummate piloting ability, good diplomatic skills and a tough skin. When the first VC-137As entered USAF service as VIP transports, LeMay argued that they should be flown by Strategic Air Command pilots with jet experience. The Chief of Staff, Gen Thomas White, opted instead for crews with only piston time but greater experience in handling “delicate” VIPs.
The improved sleeping quarters aboard ’3126 after refurbishment provided greater comfort, modest privacy and additional soundproofing against in-flight noise; but, criticised as wasteful spending on need­less luxury, it still remained comparatively spartan.