Checkerboard Stripe Honors Selfridge, SAC Heritage

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
The checkerboard is back.

Long associated with military aircraft at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, a distinctive black and yellow checkerboard design is once again in use at the base. A KC-135 Stratotanker, flown by the 127th Air Refueling Group, is now sporting the distinctive design in a stripe on the aircraft fuselage that also incorporates the logo of the group's parent organization, the 127th Wing. The checkerboard design dates back to at least the early 1970s.

"This not only represents our heritage, it also tells people that we are proud of the work our Airmen are doing today, representing Michigan around the world in today's Air Force," said Lt. Col. David Brooks, commander of the 127th Air Refueling Group.

Airmen in the 191st Maintenance Squadron, which is part of the 127th ARG, began developing the idea of adding the checkerboard logo to one of their aircraft about six months ago, explained Technical Sgt. Michael Kerr, an aircraft maintenance technician who helped to coordinate the project. While several people were looking at different design possibilities, others were seeking the required approvals from the Air Force to add the logo to the aircraft.

"You had dozens of people who were involved in this," Kerr said. "Some of the people applied the paint, but then you had many, many more who helped plan and coordinate it. Everyone wanted to be a part of this and show people who we are."

The checkerboard creates a slanted stripe at the forward edge of the aircraft wing. In addition, a distinctive design was added to the tail of the aircraft.

The stripe is intended to be reminiscent of the former markings used by the Strategic Air Command, an historic command that once was the operational home of all of the Air Force's bombers and refueling tankers, such as the KC-135. The "SAC stripe" was a frequent feature on bombers and tankers during the SAC era, 1946-1992.

"That stripe I think really speaks to the heritage of not only this aircraft but to our base," said Maj. David Dominissini, commander of the 191st MXS.

Selfridge was a part of SAC during the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the base being transferred to the control of the Michigan Air National Guard in 1971. The stripe features a checkerboard design which the 127th ARG and its predecessor units has included on its aircraft since that time or earlier.

The 127th ARG's recent history tracks from 1962, when the 191st Tactical Reconnaissance Group was formed. Later redesignated as a fighter group and still later as an airlift group, the 191st picked up a lasting nickname in the early 1970s, when the group was flying the F-106 Delta Dart, a fighter interceptor. The group has been known as the Michigan Six-Pack ever since. F-106s of the Michigan Air National Guard featured a black and yellow checkerboard design on the tail of the aircraft. The design was kept as the unit transitioned to flying F-4 Phantoms, F-16 Eagles and C-130 Hercules aircraft over the years. Now, the checkerboard is gracing the unit's KC-135s. The 127th ARG began flying KC-135s in 2008. While the checkerboard lived on in unit logos, it had been absent from the unit's aircraft since that time.

Kerr said it took about a week to do the taping and actual painting on the aircraft. One of the issues with determining the design that would ultimately be used was the amount of weight that would potentially be added to the tail of the aircraft if a painted checkerboard was added to the tail. That's when a plan was designed to use the stripe.

Kerr said it took about a gallon each of black and yellow paint to create the design, which is on both sides of the aircraft.

The first aircraft to be painted, known locally as the commander's aircraft, will be the only one that is painted in the black and yellow design. The group's other KC-135s will eventually get the design, but it will be painted in a gray and black subdued scheme.

Dominissini said it will probably take more than a year to add the design to all of the group's eight assigned aircraft, as the work will only be done as other scheduled maintenance and mission requirements allow.

The KC-135s of the 127th ARG are in high demand and in frequent use. The ARG is currently supporting a series of rolling mobilization to the Central Command Area of Responsibility, supported a deployment to Guam last March and will return there again this spring, supported operations in Libya and has one aircraft and crew on permanent assignment with Air Mobility Command's Tanker Airlift Control Center.

"I think this stripe is going to be turning some heads," Dominissini said. "Our Airmen really did a great job of designing and applying it."