KC-135 Stratotanker

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KC-135 Stratotanker
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United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker and F/A-22 Raptor
RoleMid-air refueling
Crew4, pilot, copilot, navigator, boom operator
Length136 ft 3 in41.53 m
Wingspan130 ft 10 in39.88 m
Height41 ft 8 in12.70 m
Wing area2,433 ft²226 m²
Empty98,466 lb44,663 kg
Loaded297,000 lb134,700 kg
Maximum take-off316,000 lb143,300 kg
Engines(R/T) - Four CFM International CFM-56 turbofan engines; (E) - Four Pratt & Whitney TF-33-PW-102 turbofan engines
Thrust(R) - 21,634 lbf
(E) - 18,000 lbf
(R) - 96 kN
(E) - 80 kN
Maximum speed580 mph933 km/h
Combat range3,450 mi5,550 km
Ferry range9,200 mi14,800 km
Service ceiling50,000 ft15,200 m
Rate of climb4,900 ft/min1,490 m/min

The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is an aerial refueling tanker aircraft, first manufactured in 1956 and expected to remain in service into the 2020s.


In detail

Boeing's 367-80 was the basic design for the commercial Boeing 707 passenger aircraft as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker. In 1954 the USAF's Strategic Air Command ordered the first 29 of its future fleet of 732. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, California, in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.

In Southeast Asia, KC-135 Stratotankers made the air war different from all previous aerial conflicts. Midair refueling brought far-flung bombing targets within reach. Combat aircraft, no longer limited by fuel supplies, were able to spend more time in target areas.

Air Mobility Command (AMC) manages more than 546 total aircraft inventory Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 292 in support of AMC's mission.


Of the original KC-135A's, more than 410 have been modified with new CFM56 engines produced by CFM-International. The re-engined tanker, designated either the KC-135R or KC-135T, can offload 50 percent more fuel, is 25 percent more fuel efficient, costs 25 percent less to operate and is 96 percent quieter than the KC-135A.

Under an earlier modification program, 157 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard tankers were re-engined with the Pratt & Whitney TF-33-PW-102 engines from retired 707 airliners. The re-engined tanker, designated the KC-135E, is 14 percent more fuel efficient than the KC-135A and can offload 20 percent more fuel.

Through the years, the KC-135 has been altered to do other jobs ranging from flying command post missions to reconnaissance. The EC-135C was U.S. Strategic Command's flying command post. One EC-135C, codenamed Looking Glass, was continually airborne throughout the Cold War, ready to control bombers and missiles if ground control was lost. RC-135 Rivet Joints are used for special reconnaissance and Air Force Material Command's NKC-135A's are flown in test programs. The Air Combat Command operates the OC-135 Open Skies as an observation platform in compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.

Future development

An F-15 approaches a KC-135 for refueling
An F-15 approaches a KC-135 for refueling
Over the next few years (as of 2003), the aircraft will undergo upgrades to expand its capabilities and improve its reliability. Among these are improved communications, navigation and surveillance equipment to meet future civil air traffic control needs. The Multi-Point Refueling System Program will add hose and drogue refueling pods near the wingtips, allowing it to service multiple aircraft, and to service probe-carrying aircraft without an adapter.

Four turbofans, mounted under 35-degree swept wings, power the KC-135 to takeoffs at gross weights up to 322,500 pounds (146,300 kg). Nearly all internal fuel can be pumped through the tanker's flying boom, the KC-135's primary fuel transfer method. A special shuttlecock-shaped drogue, attached to and trailing behind the flying boom, may be used to refuel aircraft fitted with probes. An operator stationed in the rear of the aircraft controls the boom while lying on his (or her) stomach. A cargo deck above the refueling system can hold a mixed load of passengers and cargo. Depending on fuel storage configuration, the KC-135 can carry up to 83,000 pounds (37,600 kg) of cargo.

It seems likely that the KC-135 fleet will be replaced by the Boeing KC-767 Tanker Transport, which was selected in competition with the Airbus A330 MRTT. The EC-135 is slated to be replaced (along with the E-3 Sentry and the E-8 Joint STARS) by the E-10 MC2A, also based upon the 767 airframe.

General characteristics

  • Primary Function: Aerial refueling and airlift
  • Prime Contractor: The Boeing Company
  • Power Plant: KC-135R/T, CFMI CFM56 turbofan engines; KC-135E, Pratt & Whitney TF-33-PW-102 turbofan engines
  • Thrust: KC-135R, 21,634 lbf (96.233 kN) each engine; KC-135E, 18,000 lbf (80 kN) each engine
  • Wingspan: 130 ft 10 in (39.88 m)
  • Length: 136 ft 3 in (41.53 m)
  • Height: 41 ft 8 in (12.7 m)
  • Speed: 530 statute miles per hour (850 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,100 m)
  • Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,200 m)
  • Range: 1,500 statute miles (2,400 km) with 150,000 pounds (68,000 kg) of transfer fuel; ferry mission, up to 17,766 km (11,039 statute miles)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 322,500 pounds (146,300 kg)
  • Maximum transfer fuel load: 200,000 pounds (90,700 kg)
  • Maximum fuel transfer rate: appr. 6500 pounds per minute (ppm) using the boom; appr. 1500 ppm with drogue attached
  • Maximum cargo capability: 83,000 pounds (37,600 kg), 37 passengers
  • Pallet positions: 6
  • Crew: four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, boom operator. Aircraft equipped with PACER CRAG do not have a navigator on most missions. The US Air Force procured a limited number of navigator suites that can be installed for unique missions.
  • Unit cost: US$39.6 million (FY98 constant dollars)
  • Date deployed: August 1956
  • Inventory: active duty, 253; Air National Guard, 222; Air Force Reserve, 70

External links

Modern USAF series Miscellaneous
Attack--OA/A-10,AC-130H/U RC-135V/RC-135W Rivet Joint
Bomber--B-52,-2,-1B,F-117A OC-135B Open Skies
Fighter--F-15/E ,F-16 KC-10 Extender
Electronic--E-3,-4B,-8C EC-130E/J,HKC-135 Stratotanker
Transport--C-5,-17,-141B, -20,-21 MC-130E/H HC-130P/N
C-22B, -32, -130, -37A, -40B/CMC-130P Combat Shadow
Trainers--T-1, -37, -38, -43, -6MH-53J/M Pave Low
Weather--WC-130, -135 HH-60G Pave Hawk
UAV--RQ-1/MQ-1 UAV, Global HawkUH-1N Huey
VC-25 - Air Force One

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

de:Boeing KC-135

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