U.S. Air Force KC-135 STRATOTANKER
The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the United States Air Force and has excelled in this role for more than 50 years. This unique asset enhances the Air Force's capability to accomplish its primary missions of Global Reach and Global Power. It also provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft. The KC-135 is also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations.
Four turbofans, mounted under 35-degree swept wings, power the KC-135 to takeoffs at gross weights up to 322,500 pounds. Nearly all internal fuel can be pumped through the 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. Some aircraft have been configured with the Multipoint Refueling System or MPRS. MPRS configured aircraft are capable of refueling two receiver aircraft simultaneously from special "pods" mounted on the wingtips. One crew member, known as the boom operator, is stationed in the rear of the plane and controls the boom during in-flight air refueling. 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 of cargo.
Air Mobility Command manages an inventory of more than 481 Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 294 in support of AMC's mission.
The Boeing Company's model 367-80 was the basic design for the commercial 707 passenger plane as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker. In 1954 the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 732-plane fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.
Of the original KC-135A's, more than 415 have been modified with new CFM-56 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 another modification program, 157 Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard tankers were re-engined with the TF-33-PW-102 engines. 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. RC-135s are used for special reconnaissance and Air Force Materiel Command's NKC-135A's are flown in test programs. Air Combat Command operates the OC-135 as an observation platform in compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.
The KC-135R/T model aircraft continue to undergo life-cycle upgrades to expand its capabilities and improve its reliability. Among these are improved communications, navigation, auto-pilot and surveillance equipment to meet future civil air traffic control needs.