KHQ.COM - The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker's principal mission is air refueling. This unique asset greatly enhances the USAF'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 aircraft as well as aircraft of allied nations.
It was the U.S. Air Force's first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratotanker. The Stratotanker was initially designed to refuel strategic bombers but was used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.
Through the years, the KC-135 has been altered to do other jobs ranging from flying command post missions to reconnaissance. The EC-135C is U.S. Strategic Command's flying command post. One EC-135C is always on alert, ready to take to the air and control bombers and missiles if ground control is lost. RC-135s 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 as an observation platform in compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.
Over the next few years, 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.
KC-135 Stratotanker Mission
The KC-135 Stratotanker's principal mission is air refueling. This unique asset greatly enhances the USAF'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 aircraft as well as aircraft of allied nations.
KC-135 Stratotanker Features
Four turbofans, mounted under 35-degree swept wings, power the KC-135 to takeoffs at gross weights up to 322,500 pounds (146,285 kilograms). 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 plane controls the boom. 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 (37,648 kilograms) of cargo. 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.
The KC-135 is one of only six military fixed-wing aircraft with over 50 years of continuous service with its original operator; it first entered service with the United States Air Force in 1957.
Primary Function: Aerial refueling and airlift
Prime Contractor: The Boeing Company
Power Plant: KC-135R/T, CFM International CFM-56 turbofan engines; KC-135E, Pratt and Whitney TF-33-PW-102 turbofan engines
Thrust: KC-135R, 21,634 pounds each engine; KC-135E, 18,000 pounds each engine
Wingspan: 130 feet, 10 inches (39.88 meters)
Length: 136 feet, 3 inches (41.53 meters)
Height: 41 feet, 8 inches (12.7 meters)
Speed: 530 miles per hour at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)
Ceiling: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters)
Range: 1,500 miles (2,419 kilometers) with 150,000 pounds (68,039 kilograms) of transfer fuel; ferry mission, up to 11,015 miles (17,766 kilometers)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 322,500 pounds (146,285 kilograms)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 200,000 pounds (90,719 kilograms)
Maximum Cargo Capability: 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms), 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 Air Force procured a limited number of navigator suites that can be installed for unique missions.
Unit Cost: $39.6 million (FY98 constant dollars)
Date Deployed: August 1956
Inventory: Active duty, 253; Air National Guard, 222; Air Force Reserve, 70
Information from About.Com