|A KC-135 Stratotanker sits on the flightline at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan.|
Ground crews will have to de-ice the tanker before it can take off on a refueling mission.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Paul Clifford)
The KC-135, as many of you probably know, is based on the Boeing Model 367-80. It went on to become the very successful Boeing 707 as well. I had always thought that the 707 came first, here's what Boeing has to say about that:
Seventy-two-year-old William Boeing came back to visit his former company for the May 14, 1954, rollout of the Model 367-80 at the Renton, Wash., plant. His wife, Bertha, christened the yellow and brown airplane with real champagne, and the Renton High School band played the Air Force theme. It was the prototype for the 707 passenger jet and the KC-135 jet tanker and would be the first member of the “700” family of commercial and military jets.Now there was something about that aircraft that rang a bell or two in the old brain housing group. First of all, I've been to Udvar-Hazy (safe to say, one of my favorite places on the planet) so I must have seen old 367-80, digging through the images I captured the day Murphy and I visited, sure enough, there she was.
The Boeing Company had invested $16 million (two-thirds of the company’s net profits from the post-war years) to build this prototype for a long-range jet aircraft. It was developed in secrecy and designated Model 367-80 to disguise it as merely an improved version of the C-97 Stratofreighter. It was subsequently nicknamed the “Dash 80,” had jet engines and swept wings, and was very different from the straight-wing, propeller-powered Stratofreighter. When the Dash 80 was almost finished, the company gambled again — by tooling and gearing up for a production aircraft, although neither the Air Force, nor any airline, had placed a single order.
Because the prototype was constructed to sell first as a military-tanker transport, it had few windows and no seats, but had two large cargo doors. A week after its first flight, the Air Force ordered 29 tanker versions, the KC-135. The commercial version, the 707, however, faced tough competition from the Douglas DC-8. Boeing salespeople directed their efforts to Pan American World Airways, Trans World Airlines and large European airlines. On Oct. 14, Pan Am ordered 20 707s. At the same time, Pan Am ordered 25 DC-8s. The race was on.
In 1972, the Dash 80 became part of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum collection. In August 2003, it flew to its new home on permanent display at the museum’s new companion facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. (Source)
She is there, in a number of my photos, not the center of my attention at the time, much to my regret because this is a very famous aircraft. Ever heard of a fellow named Tex Johnston?
Yup, same aircraft. I had absolutely no clue that I was standing that close to a legendary aircraft. No clue that she was perhaps more famous than the other birds around her. Well, now I know better, and next time I get to visit Udvar-Hazy, I'll give the old girl the attention she deserves. After all she's the mother of the KC-135 tankers still in service today.
The Air Force has been flying the -135 since 1956, Your Humble Scribe was only three years old when the first -135 rolled out of the factory.
The KC-135 was the first offspring of the Dash 80. It was designed specifically for aerial refueling and for 15 years was the only tanker used by the Strategic Air Command (SAC). More than 600 of the 732 tankers built were still in service in the mid-1990s.I have never had the opportunity to fly on any of the -135 family, though both daughters did when they were in AF JROTC back in high school. They had the opportunity to go up on an air refueling mission with the Air National Guard when they had a tanker deployed to Geilenkirchen to support our E-3A NATO AWACS birds during the unpleasantness down in the former Yugoslavia. (The E-3A was built on a -707 airframe, so she's a sister to the -135) Was the old man jealous?
The KC-135 replaced the propeller-powered KC-97 tankers, which could no longer keep up with the jet fighters and bombers. In 1956, when the first KC-135 — nicknamed "The City of Renton" — rolled out of the plant, it shared the Renton tarmac with the last KC-97, providing a vivid picture of The Boeing Company's complete conversion to jet power.
During nine years of the Vietnam conflict, KC-135s made 813,000 aerial refuelings of combat aircraft. During the Persian Gulf War, the tankers made 18,700 hookups and transferred 278 million pounds (126 million kilograms) of fuel.
A total of 820 C/KC-135s were built in Renton, Wash., through 1966: 732 as aerial tankers and 88 modified for special purposes, including cargo carriers, reconnaissance airplanes, Strategic Air Command airborne command posts and transports for high-ranking government officials.
Boeing modifications that extended service capabilities of the KC-135s included re-skinning the wings with an improved aluminum alloy and installing new, more powerful and fuel-efficient engines. Two re-engined KC-135Rs could do the work of three KC-135As.
On Feb.24, 2011, Boeing announced that it had received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft, the KC-46, based on the Boeing 767 commercial airplane, to replace 179 of the service’s 400 KC-135 tankers. (Source)
Why yes, yes I was!
(Why did the daughters join the Navy after having gone AF JROTC? They both have corrected vision, who runs the Air Force? Pilots. Could they be pilots? No. I advised them to go Navy. Sorry Air Force.)
As one might expect, the Air Force's website has some good data on the KC-135.
Here's the bird I supported for seven plus years in Germany. We had 18 of these at one time but had one go down on take off while deployed to Greece. Only one crewman was injured, the flight engineer, but all the crew survived. The bird was a write off, she broke in two, as can be seen in the following photo. I knew the flight engineer, his wife and The Missus Herself are good friends. A Canadian family, great folks. He recovered from his injuries, thank the Lord.
|Note the "LX-N" registration on the tail. All of the NATO birds are registered in Luxembourg. (Source)|
|Boeing E-3 Sentry, registration LX-N90457, after overrunning the runway at Prevesa AB in Greece. (Source)|
|USAF E-3 Sentry (Source)|
|RAF E-3D Sentry (Source)|
|Armée de l'Air E-3F (Source)|
|An RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 763rd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron takes off for a mission, Aug. 26, 2008. The 763 ERS supports theater and national-level consumers with near real-time on-scene intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. (Source)|
|The EC-135C Looking Glass lands after its final operational flight. (Source)|
Yup, the Boeing 707, the KC-135, a fine aircraft. I doubt we'll see such a versatile airframe again in our lifetimes. A fine bird with an epic history. The next photo seems fitting as the KC-135 comes to the end of its long, and storied career.