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Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker


Airborne Refueling Tanker / Special Mission Military Aircraft


United States | 1957



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



Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/24/2023 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The KC-135 "Stratotanker" became a notable aircraft product for the Boeing Company primarily in offering the United States Air Force (USAF) unparalleled war-planning capabilities and logistics support through in-flight 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. Total production of Stratotankers reached 803 from the period spanning 1955 until 1965. This series aircraft continues to serve the USAF, and other allied nations, with its critical support capabilities.

The KC-135 series succeeded the KC-97 Stratofreighter in the aerial refueling role.

Inflight refueling was pioneered during the Cold War period (1947-1991) and streamlined with the arrival of larger jet-powered aircraft. This result allowed military warplanners an unprecedented global reach when dictating the actions of their forces. To this day, in-flight refueling remains a large part of the success of any one air power, especially when dealing with activities over large distances, and is critical to the scope of USAF operations around the world. Consider that it also requires a steady hand-and-eye for airmen and tanker crews alike to complete the precision process required of refueling a combat warplane in-air.

Design work began in the early 1950's to fulfill a standing USAF requirement for a new dedicated in-flight refueler with jet-powered performance. The result became the Boeing Model 367-80 demonstrator that, in turn, became the KC-135. The KC-135 featured tanking equipment and an all-Boeing-designed powered boom. Fuel was carried in the belly and wing sections with propulsion power stemming from 4 x CFM International CFM56 turbofan engines. The aircraft typically saw an operating of just four personnel - two pilots, a navigator and a boom operator - though additions could be made when required (for instance five crewmen were featured in the MEDEVAC version).

As designed, the KC-135 (KC-135R) was given a running length of 127.9 feet, a wingspan of 129.7 feet and a height of 38 feet. Its empty weight was 98,465lb against an MTOW of 322,500lb. Maximum speed was 580 miles per hour with a cruise speed near 530 mph. Range was out to 1,500 miles and a service ceiling of 50,000 feet was possible. Rate-of-climb became 4,900 feet-per-minute.

Modernization programs (including "re-engining" and software upgrades) have propelled the KC-135 series into the new millennium. The platform is still a large factor in global operations involving the USAF and increases the reach of all aircraft on sortie. Other nations rely on the KC-135 series as well, though it has not had quite the impact anywhere else as it has had for U.S. forces traveling the globe.

Operators of the KC-135 family include Chile, France, Singapore and Turkey. Variants include the original KC-135A, the KC-135B Airborne Command Post and the KC-135D. The KC-135E served the Air National Guard and the NKC-135E was a KC-135E converted for tests. The NKC-135N served the United States space program and the E-135N was outfitted with equipment to support the Apollo rocket program. The KC-135Q carried JP-7 fuel for the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird spyplane and some 56 were modified to the standard.

The KC-135R were four KC-135A aircraft modified for nuclear reconnaissance and powered by 4 x Pratt & Whitney J57 engines. A later form of the KC-135R were some 361 KC-135A and KC-135E production models with CFM-56 series engines. The KC-135R(RT) was used for secure SATCOM radio transmissions and three were converted from RC-135D production models.

The KC-135T was the KC-135Q with the CFM-56 engines and 54 aircraft were modified to the standard. The EC0135Y was another Airborne Command Post developed in 1984 to support United States Central Command operations. This example was powered by 4 x Pratt & Whitney TF-33-PW-102 series engines.

Since service introduction in 1957, the KC-135 family of special-mission aircraft has served from the Vietnam War years (1955-1975), through to the end of the Cold War (1991), as part of Strategic Air Command (SAC) (1947-1992) and into Operation Allied Force (1999).

The KC-135 series is set to be replaced by the in-development Boeing KC-46 "Pegasus" line detailed elsewhere on this site.

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

Content ©MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.

November 2018 - Existing USAF KC-135 platforms are now scheduled to receive the same enhanced situational awareness survivability package used in the C-130H model. This will consist of Helmet-Mounted Displays (HMDs), electronic jamming equipment, and Radar Warning Receivers (RWRs).

August 2019 - Beginning in September, USAF KC-135 aerial tankers will be receiving the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) position reporting system on 417 Stratotanker examples.

October 2020 - The French Air Force has begun retiring its fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers as it grows its commitment to the A330 "Phenix" MRTT.

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Cockpit
While traditional jobs involve workstations, office desks, or cubicles, aircraft provide operators with their own unique, ever-changing view of the world below.
Cockpit image
[ Click to Enlarge ]
Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker Airborne Refueling Tanker / Special Mission Military Aircraft.
4 x CFM F108 turbofan engines developing 22,000 lb of thrust each.
Propulsion
610 mph
982 kph | 530 kts
Max Speed
41,719 ft
12,716 m | 8 miles
Service Ceiling
2,880 miles
4,635 km | 2,503 nm
Operational Range
1,290 ft/min
393 m/min
Rate-of-Climb
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Structure
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker Airborne Refueling Tanker / Special Mission Military Aircraft.
4
(MANNED)
Crew
136.3 ft
41.53 m
O/A Length
130.8 ft
(39.88 m)
O/A Width
41.7 ft
(12.70 m)
O/A Height
106,307 lb
(48,220 kg)
Empty Weight
322,503 lb
(146,285 kg)
MTOW
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
RANGE
ALT
SPEED
Variants
Notable series variants as part of the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker family line.
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.
Operators
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 803 Units

Contractor(s): The Boeing Company - USA
National flag of Chile National flag of France National flag of Singapore National flag of Turkey National flag of the United States

[ Chile; France; Singapore; Turkey; United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 750mph
Lo: 375mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (610mph).

Graph Average of 563 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
803
36183
44000
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
Sub
Trans
Super
Hyper
HiHyper
ReEntry
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
EarlyYrs
WWI
Interwar
WWII
ColdWar
Postwar
Modern
Future
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Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
AERIAL REFUELING
SPECIAL FORCES
Recognition
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker Airborne Refueling Tanker / Special Mission Military Aircraft appears in the following collections:
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