The Tanker Ghost

KC-10 - U.S. Air Force Photo

The KC-10 tanker is a magnificent aircraft.  Based on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airliner, the KC-10 represented a great step forward in U.S. Air Force air-refueling capability over the 1950s era KC-135 tanker at the time of its introduction in the 1980s.  The KC-10 carries more fuel and more cargo than the KC-135.  Additionally, the KC-10 is itself air-refuelable, greatly extending its mission range over the KC-135.  Between 1981 and 1987, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of sixty KC-10s.  Fifty nine aircraft remain in service.  One aircraft, tail number 82-0190, was destroyed in a ground fire with the loss of one life.

On September 17, 1987, KC-10 82-0190 landed at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.  The crew taxied-in and parked the aircraft without incident.  About an hour after the crew departed, three maintenance ground crew members were working on the aircraft.  According to the mishap report, one airman was in the cockpit, one was in the left main gear well and the other was in the boom operator’s station at the rear of the aircraft.  Unbeknownst to the ground crew, a leak had caused fuel vapors to accumulate in the center avionics bay, which is a small compartment filled with electronic equipment underneath the main floor amidships in the aircraft.  Somehow, perhaps from a spark due to electrical arching, the fuel vapors ignited, and with 63,000 pounds of jet fuel in the tanks, resulted in a massive fire.  Miraculously, two of the ground crew escaped the inferno, but one perished in the explosion and fire.

Once the mishap investigation concluded, the Air Force dutifully salvaged what parts it could from the burned-out hulk of 82-0190.  These parts went back into the KC-10 supply inventory and were used on other airframes as needed.  At this point, the official Air Force story concludes.  However, as a few in the KC-10 community know, by firsthand experience, this was not the end of the story.

Similar to reports of appearances by Don Repo’s apparent ghost on L-1011 aircraft which received parts salvaged from Eastern Airlines flight 401 after it crashed in the Everglades in 1972, KC-10 air and ground crew began experiencing strange incidents on aircraft which had received parts from 82-0190.  A couple people claim to have encountered an apparition of the deceased airman.  However, the most common report is the smell of the aftershave worn by the airman.  Those who knew the airman in life claim he enjoyed using liberal amounts of aftershave.  These people insist the scent they’ve encountered is the same smell they associated with the airman when he was alive – yet they smelled it after his death and while working alone.

I’ve personally spoken with several of these witnesses during candid conversations in which they had no reason to lie.  I’m confident that at the very least they believe they have encountered the airman’s ghost.  Interestingly, scent is one of the most often reported signs associated with paranormal activity – the other being sound.

Is the Air Force KC-10 fleet haunted?  Perhaps, but considering it maintains the best safety record of all aircraft in the Air Force inventory, not many people find reason to complain about the airman’s ghost watching over the remaining airframes.

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3 Responses to “The Tanker Ghost”

  1. are you serious? i flew on the kc-10 for 10 years from 88-98 and was even stationed at barksdale for 5 of those years and never even heard a whisper of this.

    • Hi Rob,
      Thank you for visiting my blog. In answer to your question, yes, I am serious. As you no doubt saw in reviewing my “About” page, I too am a former Air Force active duty member, and in fact was also in the KC-10 community. Further, as I’m sure you saw in looking at my other posts, I never claim with absolute certainty that something is “paranormal” or “ghosts.” In fact, in this particular instance, I even mention that it’s possible the witnesses were mistaken, but, in my firsthand conversations with them, I do not believe them to be liars. I am confident that at the least, they believe what they told me happened as they recalled it. As to not hearing a whisper of it, that doesn’t surprise me at all. First, we both know it’s not particularly conducive for one’s Air Force career to make known far and wide that you had what you believed to be a paranormal experience. We’re both aware of the kind of non-stop ridicule from squadron-mates that would bring upon someone. Second, it took me several years from the time I first heard some rumors among maintenance troops until the time I actually encountered someone with firsthand experience who knew Sgt Burgio and was actually willing to talk about their experiences. Certainly, it’s an open question whether the witnesses actually experienced what they thought they experienced, but there is no question of their having reported experiencing something. Thank you again for your visit.

  2. Although not experiencing a specific “paranormal” experience when working at Barksdale from 1988-1994, there were times when working on swing shift and Mid shift, i would feel a protective presence.

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