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Richard L. Trail, Lt. Col. USAF (retired), was born and raised on a farm south of McCook, Nebraska. He learned to fly in 1953 in his father’s J-3 Cub. Immediately after high school, he received an appointment to the newly formed Air Force Academy. He was the first native Nebraskan to attend and graduate from there. He was the first student to solo in a sailplane and the first to fly in and out of the new airbase built for the Academy.
Trail was rated as both a navigator and pilot and flew the T-28, T-33, T-34, T-39 and the C47. His career was mainly as a aerial re-fueler. He began in the KC-97 and then went on to the KC-135 logging about 7000 hours as pilot, co-pilot and instructor.
He spent 450 days in theatre during the Vietnam war flying over two hundred sorties. The most notable was in 1967 when his crew won the MacKay Trophy for the Meritorious Flight of the Year. The crew was contacted by a carrier based Navy tanker which was running low on fuel and would soon have to ditch. Trail’s crew decided to help and this was the first time an Air Force tanker had re-fueled a Navy plane. The Navy tanker had fuel on board to pass to fighters, but none for themselves. While hooked to the Air Force tanker, the Navy tanker re-fueled several Navy fighters. This was the first tri-level aerial re-fueling in history.
Awards won by Trail included the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters.