The KC-97 – from workhorse to party animal

Bern Case, Director of the Rogue Valley Medford Airport inside the KC-97.
Bern Case, Director of the Rogue Valley Medford Airport inside the KC-97.

One of  Oregon’s proudest veterans never trained in a boot camp, fired a gun, or marched in a parade. Yet, her history of accomplishments and valor merit honorable mention from hordes of sight-seers at Medford’s Airport.
In 1952, before jets came into common use, propeller-driven aircraft flew low enough for people to hear them from the ground. That year, our KC-97 rolled off Boeing Aircraft’s Seattle assembly line to function as tanker/transporter. Because of her capacity to keep huge bombers aloft for longer hours, the air tanker’s value had impressed America’s strategic air command. In mid-flight 18,000 feet above ground, the KC-97 could rendezvous with, and refuel a B-47 short-range bomber, effectively transforming it into a long-range one.

This prop-driven aircraft’s roomy interior also made her an excellent
candidate for carrying troops and cargo. "You could hang jeeps from
these hooks attached to the overhead," said Rogue Valley Medford
Airport Director, Bern Case. 
Following 25 years’ military
service, this particular plane went to a private contractor in
California to fight forest fires. In 1990, another buyer, Erickson Air
Crane, wondered whether the four-engine craft could make one last
flight to Medford on two usable engines. "She could, and she did," said
But for another nine years after giving up her good
engines, the aging workhorse sat idle. One morning a clip-board
wielding businessman informed Case of plans to cut the deteriorating
metal skeleton to pieces and sell it for scrap. The news sparked Case
into rescue mode. Scrapping K-C would be like taking a close friend
away. He approached Aircrane’s then owner, Jack Erickson with a
suggestion. "Why not consider donating the relic, and getting a tax
write-off instead?" Erickson agreed.
Case’s dedicated
staff cooperated with KC-97 committee chairman Bud Glickman, who would
raise private donations to restore the plane. Gradually, they’d
overcome obstacles such as red tape, and missing parts. "The city had
to shut us down for a while," recalls Case. "We needed to meet the
standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Installing the
elevator next to our staircase puts us in full compliance with that."
motorists driving past the airport spot the beautifully restored
memento that beckons them to take a closer look. With a wingspan of
141′ 3" and length of 117′  5" the KC-97 seems bigger up close than
from a distance. According to Legacy of Boeing KC-97 by David Dushane,
the average passenger car would operate more than a year on the amount
of fuel transferred through the boom of a KC-97 in just one minute.
in addition to her function as a museum, and tourist stop, Medford’s 
KC-97 plays an unexpected role. "We book tours, meetings, and parties,"
said Case. "Boy Scout troops love visiting the cockpit, sitting at the
controls, and pretending they’re flying it.  Although, there’s room for
many more, per fire laws, we can accommodate up to 49 people. That’s
because we have only one entrance and exit."
For anyone
wishing to see the plane up close, Case’s staff conducts free tours of
the vintage plane Saturday mornings at ten. They won’t leave the
ground, except in their memories and imagination.
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent

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