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Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker Inflight Refueling Special Purpose Aircraft

Systems such as the KC-135 have evolved air combat throughout the decades.

 Updated: 7/1/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

The KC-135 Stratotanker proved to be a monumental product for the Boeing corporation in more ways than one, firstly solidifying its position as the premiere airliner manufacturer throughout the world and secondly offering the United States Air Force unparalleled war planning capabilities and logistics support through inflight refueling and transportation. Furthermore, the KC-135 tanker airframe became the basis for the C-135 Stratolifter strategic transport and the commercial 707 civilian airliner. With over 400 Stratotankers in service today, the Boeing series continues to serve the USAF and other nations with its critical support capabilities.

Inflight refueling was pioneered in the Cold War and streamlined with the arrival of the larger jet-powered aircraft. The result allowed military warplanners an unprecedented global reach when dictating actions of their forces. To this day, inflight refueling remains a large part of the successes of any one air force, especially when dealing with activities over large distances. It also takes a steady hand and eye for airmen and tanker crews alike to complete the precision process.

Design work began in the early 1950's to fulfill a USAF requirement for an inflight refueler with jet-powered capabilities. The result became the 367-80 demonstrator that furthermore became the KC-135. The KC-135 featured tanking equipment and an all-Boeing powered boom. Fuel was carried in the belly and wing elements and power was generated by use of four J57 powerplants. The system was generally crewed by three personnel though additions could be made when mission-specific (5 are utilized in the MEDEVAC role for instance).

Re-engining programs and system and software upgrades have propelled the KC-135 series into the new millennium. The system is still a large factor in global operations of the USAF and increases the reach of all aircraft on sortie. Other nations utilize the KC-135 as well, though it has not had quite the impact anywhere else as it has had for US forces traveling the globe.

Special thanks to Anthony S of the Boeing Corporation for his input.

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Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker Technical Specifications

Service Year: 1956
Type: Inflight Refueling Special Purpose Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): The Boeing Company - USA
Production Total: 422

Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 3
Overall Length: 136.25 feet (41.53 meters)
Overall Width: 130.84 feet (39.88 meters)
Overall Height: 41.67 feet (12.70 meters)

Weight (Empty): 106,307 lb (48,220 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 322,503 lb (146,285 kg)

Cockpit Image


Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

Propulsion: 4 x CFM F108 turbofan engines developing 22,000 lb of thrust each.

Maximum Speed: 610 mph (982 kph; 530 knots)
Maximum Range: 2,880 miles (4,635 km)
Service Ceiling: 41,719 feet (12,716 meters; 7.90 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,290 feet-per-minute (393 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload


Global Operators / Customers

Chile; France; Singapore; Turkey; United States

Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

367-80 - Demonstrator Model Designation
KC-135A - Initial USAF Production Model Designation fitted with J57 turbojets.
KC-135E - Re-engined Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units fitted with TF33 turbofans.
KC-135FR - Re-engined C-135F Models for French export.
KC-135Q - Modified KC-135 systems to refuel the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (56 converted as such).
KC-135T - Re-engined KC-135Q models with F108 powerplants.
KC-135R - Base KC-135 models re-engined with CFM International F108 (CFM56) turbofan engines.
C-135 - Military Transport Variant Series Designation.
C-135F - French Export Variants of which 12 delivered; later re-engined with F108 powerplants becoming KC-135FR designations.
707 - Civilian Transport Variant Model Designation.