Exactly sixty examples of the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter were built for the United States Air Force, the series continuing service today despite its 1950s origins.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Credit: Image from the United States Air Force; Released to the Public.
The Boeing C-135 "Stratolifter" - known internally as the "Model 717" - was developed in the 1950s and was based in the Model 367-80 jet-powered passenger airliner prototype. This prototype achieved first-flight on July 15th, 1954 though only a single airframe was completed. Regardless, the design went on to influence the development of the United States Air Force's (USAF) C-135 and all of its offshoot aircraft - to include the KC-135 "Stratotanker" and WC-135 "Constant Phoenix". The C-135 prototype itself was first-flown on August 17th, 1956 and entered service in June of 1957. Sixty total airframes were produced by Boeing from the period spanning 1954 to 1965 and the series maintains an active service status in the USAF fleet today (2020).
The aircraft typically carries an operating crew of three (pilot, co-pilot, and loadmaster) while the airframe has a length of 136.2 feet with a wingspan of 130.9 feet, and a height of 41.7 feet. Empty weight is 98,465lb against an MTOW of 322,500lb. For its service life, the C-135 has been powered by various turbojets and turbofans depending on decade of operation. Performance includes a maximum speed of 580 miles-per-hour with a range out to 3,450 miles, and a service ceiling of 50,000 feet. Rate-of-climb reaches 4,900 feet-per-minute.
The initial in-service model of the series became the "C-135A" (Model 717-157) which were "hybrid-role" airframes capable of passenger- (126 personnel) or cargo-hauling sorties. Early forms of this variant were powered by 4 x Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W series turbojet engines and later models were introduced with 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engines resulting in the change to the "C-135E" designation. Lengthened tailplanes were also introduced for improved controlling and total production ended with eighteen C-135A/E model aircraft which served into the 1990s.
The C-135B (Model 717-158) followed and were based in the A-model but given TF33-P-5 turbofan engines instead. Thirty aircraft were built to the standard and five were set aside for VC-135B VIP transport conversion. B-models also formed the basis for the RC-135, WC-135B, and other specialized versions by way of conversion programs.
The C-135C was the designation used to mark three Stratolifter airframes (based in the C-135B variant) modified for the weather reconnaissance role as "WC-135B". These aircraft held an air-to-air refueling capability and were eventually reset to their original passenger/cargo forms before the end.
The C-135E were C-135A models given TF33-PW-102 series turbofan engines and operated under the designation of "EC-135N" as mission-support platforms before reverting back to the C-135E designation.
The C-135F (Model 717-164), based in the C-135A, was produced to a French requirement for a hybrid transport/aerial tanker platform. Twelve airframes were built by Boeing. The C-135FR designation then covered eleven C-135F tankers re-engined with 4 x CFM56 turbofan engines.
The C-135K was a one-off variant used in the VIP transport role under the CINCPAC banner.
Status Active, In-Service
[ 60 Units ] : Boeing Company - USA
France; United States
- Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
- Electronic Warfare (EW)
- VIP Transport
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
136.32 ft (41.55 m)
131.23 ft (40 m)
41.67 ft (12.7 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter production model)
99,208 lb (45,000 kg)
321,875 lb (146,000 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter production model)
R/T Models: 4 x CFM International CFM56 turbofan engines developing 21,635lb of thrust each; E Models: 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-102 turbofan engines developing 18,000lb of thrust each.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter production model)
581 mph (935 kph; 505 kts)
49,869 feet (15,200 m; 9.44 miles)
3,449 miles (5,550 km; 2,997 nm)
5,000 ft/min (1,524 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Boeing C-135 Stratolifter production model)
C-135 "Stratoflifter" - Base Series Designation.
C-135A (717-157) - Initial production model; J57-P-59W turbojet engines; 18 aircraft built.
C-135B (717-158) - Based in C-135A though with TF33-P-5 turbofan engines; lengthened tailplanes.
C-135C - C-135B aircraft modified to WC-135B standard; air-to-air refueling capability.
C-135E - Upgraded A-models with TF33-PW-102 turbofan engines; lengthened tailplanes.
C-135F (717-164) - French aerial tanker/transport role hybrid; 12 examples completed.
C-135K - EC-135K modified for VIP service; single example.
C-135FR - French C-135F with CFM56 turbofan engines.
KC-135 "Stratotanker" - Aerial tanker variant.
EC-135 - Airborne Command Post special-mission platform of 1965; out of service.
NC-135 - Special test missions aircraft; notable dorsal fairing; in active service with USAF and USN.
RC-135 - Airborne reconnaissance platform.
OC-135B "Open Skies" - Observation Support/ Support Open Skies Treaty aircraft of 1993; three examples for USAF.
WC-135 "Constant Phoenix" - Atmospheric nuclear testing platform; model of 1965; serving USAF; 10 built from WC-135B model stock with single example converted from EC-135C stock; two airframes in service.
VC-135B - VIP passenger transports modified from C-135B stock; five examples.
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