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0327 has made mark in history - Grand ol' jet to be retired

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

To her crew, 0327 is more than just a plane. Its aluminum skin has seen much of the world and her sturdy airframe carried the likes of Gens. Norman Schwarzkopf and Tommy Franks, who nicknamed her Nelly Bell.

In her 40 years, 0327 served as part of the Apollo 11 mission, adding more to the unique history of the EC-135, which next week will be retired from service to begin a new life as a museum piece at the Robbins Museum of Aviation in Georgia. A ceremony is planned for Feb. 19, in which the history of the plane's service will be remembered before she takes off from MacDill one last time.

"It's bittersweet anytime you send a plane out," said Capt. Keith Peloquin, an instructor pilot who has logged some 500 hours on 61-0327, the big bird's tail numbers. "It's more than just a machine to her crew."

Peloquin said the plane is a variation of the KC-135 tanker, but 0327 never saw service in that role and has been an EC-135 from its birth in 1961. It arrived at MacDill in 1997, along with another EC-135, with both planes supporting the commander in chief of U.S. Central Command. Six officers and 59 crew members were deployed from Georgia along with the planes. One of the EC-135s was transferred from MacDill about three years ago, said Peloquin, leaving 0327. The current crew of the plane will be absorbed into the 6th AMXS Aircraft Maintenance Unit.

"This plane has a lot of historical significance, from the Apollo mission service on through the years," said Peloquin, adding that is one reason it was chosen to become part of the museum.

As a display, visitors will be able to take a tour inside the plane from tail to cockpit. Informational displays will detail her years of service.

Lt. Jay Caldwell, the officer in charge of the Special Airfield Missions Flight, is among those who will be saying goodbye to the old bird.

"It will be a sad day for MacDill and the Air Force when 61-0327 is retired. The retirement of 0327 is an end of an era. This is the last aircraft to transport commanders of the Unified Commands solely maintained and flown by Air Force personnel," said Caldwell.

Peloquin said the plane, which was built in 1961, is not necessarily too old to fly any longer, but was in need of updating to meet current requirements. The refitting, which would include extensive electronic equipment upgrades, was deemed impractical and too costly. As a result the jet will be replaced by a Boeing Business Jet, which is a modified 737-passenger jet, he said.

The new plane will be a welcome addition but for the ground and aircrew, who spent so much time with 0327, it's like replacing an old friend.

"There is a lot of attachment for the crew," said Peloquin, who said they all will be gathered next week to see her off. Set to begin at 10 a.m., following the ceremony at around 2 p.m., the jet will lift off for Robbins.

 

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