The most visible face of Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander Col. Scott DeThomas, is retiring in August.
His final flight as an Air Force pilot was today when he brought a KC-135 Stratotanker in for a landing shortly after 1 p.m. It is one of nine different aircraft he's piloted for more than 3,000 hours flight time in the Air Force.
“I've loved every weapons system I've had the opportunity to fly,” DeThomas shared after his final flight. “Most pilots, if you just tell them they can fly airplanes, they don't care what flavor, what color it looks like. Just to be able to go up and do what we do is fantastic and that's really what's been the best part of the career is having the opportunity to fly airplanes plus lead people.”
The 6th Air Mobility Wing Commander did a fly-around before landing. He said he was giving his copilot a chance to try a few approaches. But it’s understandable if he wanted to delay the moment.
As the wheels of the aging tanker rolled to a stop, it was the start of the end of DeThomas’ 32-year military career, which he started as a private in the Rhode Island Army National Guard.
“The last landing, it kind of started like – wow – this is the last time I’m going to land on a military air field officially,” DeThomas told reporters and then laughed. “It just sort of started to sink in.”
He called the moment "surreal.”
As is Air Force tradition after a final flight, the pilot is greeted with a shower of water and champagne.
DeThomas’ green flight suit was soaked. He was drenched by his crew with a bucket of water as he dropped down the tanker's ladder and then by staff, friends and family on the tarmac armed with extinguishers loaded with water and uncorked champagne bottles.
The DeThomas family, the colonel, his wife Marta and children Brad, 17, and Anna, 8, plans to stay in Tampa. He said his next assignment is to start a job hunt.