Dubious Military Distinctions

In the category of Dubious Military Distinctions, I like to think I hold the world’s record for the shortest flight in a KC-135A/B between two different airports. (The KC-135 is an aircraft that refuels other planes in midair.)

My “world record” flight took place in 1968 between St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (KPIE) and MacDill Air Force Base (KMCF) in Tampa, Florida.

The day started at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York where I was told to deliver a KC-135A/B to PEMCO, an Inspection and Repair As Necessary (IRAN) facility located at St. Petersburg – Clearwater International airport.

Like most pilots, I like landing at different airports, especially if I can land a military aircraft at a civilian airport, so it was a good mission. Everything was routine. We landed, taxied to the north end of the very long PEMCO hangar and turned over the aircraft and paperwork to the IRAN team that met us. They told us that our take-home KC-135A/B aircraft was at the other end of the hangar.

We preflighted our “shiny new” rehabbed aircraft, made sure all the systems worked, and that all the equipment and paper work was onboard.

The next action was to fly to MacDill Air Force Base, refuel the KC-135, and get the mission information we needed to do a mid-air refuel of another aircraft on our return flight to Plattsburg Air Force Base. That mission was required to insure all the refueling systems worked, before the plane could go back on Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) alert duty or fly a future refueling mission.

The first thing I did was to apply my “Hitech” six-minute navigation system that works with every aircraft, even the Moonlander.  Six minutes is 10% of airspeed, so my aircraft at 200 knots means that we would cover 20 miles in 6 minutes in a no wind condition. Since the distance between them is approximately 10 miles, we could fly directly from KPIE and KMCF in approximately three minutes.  The alternative was to take off and fly radar vectors to the south, then to the east, then back west to MacDill, which could take more than 20 minutes.

The takeoff wind favored a south takeoff, so I contacted the St. Petersburg – Clearwater control tower and shared my plan with a request for a direct flight to MacDill AFB, saying that I would clear the flight path with both the Tampa International airport tower and the MacDill AFB tower. I called both towers asked for their approval, and gave them my transponder code. They responded that there was no conflicting traffic.

The tower cleared me for takeoff. We were very light and airborne in less than 3,000 feet. I left the gear and flaps down, turned at 500 feet to the southeast, was cleared to land, and made a right base turn landing to the south at MacDill. The turn off was at the second taxiway, and shutdown came soon after. My total flight time less than four minutes, a world record (so far as I know) for the shortest flight in a KC-135A/B between two airports.

Cornelius “Neil” Cosentino became a US Air Force pilot in 1960, and went on to log over 6,000 hours in military, commercial and private flying. He flew the B-47, KC-135, F-4CDE, including three tours in Vietnam. He was awarded 9 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Neil joined OLLI-USF in 2018. He has taken classes in writing, music, teaching, activism and online searches. Neil is always interested in new projects.


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