Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker
Article and Photos by Steven Valinski
The KC-135 was the United States Air Force’s first jet-powered tanker. Based on the Boeing Model 367-80 (Dash 80) platform (which evolved into the Boeing 707 as a commercial aircraft), the KC-135 has been refueling military aircraft in every major U.S. war and conflict beginning with the Vietnam War. The KC-135 was first deployed in 1956, so it has been in use for over 57 years. With a top speed of 600 MPH and a range of approximately 5000 miles, the KC-135 is the primary refueling aircraft for the United States Air Force. At a length of 136 feet 3 inches (41.53 meters), with a wingspan of 130 feet 10 inches (39.88 meters), and a height of 41 feet, 8 inches (12.7 meters), the KC-135 is a large aircraft. With the KC-135’s large size it can carry up to 200,000 pounds of transferable fuel. There are currently over 400 KC-135’s in active service with the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve units.
Recently, I had a chance to take a tour of and photograph an active KC-135R. Several members of the crew with the Utah Air National Guard were kind and gracious enough to provide access to and information about their aircraft. Based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, these aviators spent the weekend at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport on standby for national alert support.
This particular KC-135R was built in 1964 (64-14828). For an “almost” 50 year old aircraft, this aircraft is well-maintained. The solid build quality is devoid of any high-tech metals which most modern aircraft are comprised of. This aircraft was built during a time when quality and durability were paramount. Upon entering the aircraft I noticed plenty of seating along the length of the aircraft and wondered where all the fuel was stored. One of the crew members mentioned that there are many fuel cells throughout the aircraft and these fuel cells were all around and below us. At the rear of the aircraft there was an area that could be accessed by stepping down a few steps where the boom operator could operate the main boom for refueling. These aircraft are also capable of refueling U.S. Navy, U.S.M.C., and NATO aircraft by fitting the aircraft with a wingtip drogue configuration and air refueling pods. I recently saw this configuration on one of the KC-135’s used during Red Flag 14-1 at Nellis AFB.
Overall, it was a great experience to be able to learn about and photograph this KC-135R. A special thanks to the pilot and crew of the aircraft, who are with the 151st Air Refueling Wing (151 ARW) stationed at the Salt Lake City Air National Guard Base in Utah, for taking the time out of their busy schedule to accommodate me.