KC-135 Stratotanker

KC-135 refuels two smaller jetsThe KC-135 was the first offspring of the Dash 80. It was the only jet airplane designed specifically for aerial refueling and for 15 years was the only tanker used by the Strategic Air Command. More than 600 of the 732 tankers built were still in service in the mid-1990s.

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 of fuel.

A total of 820 KC-135s were built in Renton, Wash., through 1966: 732 as aerial tankers and 88 modified for special purposes, including cargo carriers, reconnaissance airplanes, SAC Airborne Command Posts and transports for high-ranking government officials.

Boeing modifications that extend service capabilities of the KC-135s into the next millennium include re-skinning the wings with an improved aluminum alloy and installing new, more powerful and fuel-efficient engines. Two re-engined KC-135Rs can do the work of three KC-135As.

The KC-135 remains the Air Force's prime aerial refueling airplane.

KC-135 home page

First flight: Aug. 31, 1956
Model number: KC-135 (military designation)
Classification: Military tanker-transport
Span: 130 feet 10 inches
Length: 136 feet 3 inches
Gross weight: 297,000 pounds
Top speed: 600 mph
Cruising speed: 552 mph
Range: 5,000 miles
Ceiling: 41,000 feet
Power: Four 13,750-pound-thrust P&W J57 turbojet engines
Accommodation: 4 crew, 80 troops