30 December 1964

A Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker refuels a Boeing B-52E Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force)

30 December 1964: The United States Air Force accepted the last of 732 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers: KC-135A serial number 64-14840. The new tanker was assigned to the 380th Air Refueling Squadron at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, New York, 12 January 1965.

As of 14 May 2018, 396 KC-135s were still in service with the United States Air Force: 153 active duty, 72 Air Force Reserve, and 171 Air National Guard. It is estimated that the fleet is 33% through their design lifetime limits.

Built as an aerial refueling tanker to support the U.S. Air Force fleet of B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers, an initial order for 24 tankers was soon increased to 250. Eventually 732 KC-135As were built by Boeing, and an additional 81 of other versions.

With the company internal designation of Model 717, the KC-135 was developed from the Model 367-80 proof-of-concept prototype, the “Dash Eighty.” The Stratotanker is very similar in appearance to the Model 707 and 720 airliners but is structurally a different aircraft. It is also shorter than the 707 and has a smaller diameter fuselage.

Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, forward deployed to support B-52 operations. (SMSGT John Rohrer, U.S. Air Force)
Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers of the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, forward deployed to support B-52 operations. (SMSGT John Rohrer, U.S. Air Force)

The Stratotanker was originally operated by a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and refueling boom operator. Upgrades over the decades have simplified operation and the crew has been reduced to two pilots and the boom operator.

The KC-135R is 136 feet, 3 inches (41.529 meters) long (156 feet/47.549 meters with fueling boom extended), with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters), and overall height of 41 feet, 8 inches (12.700 meters). Its maximum takeoff weight is 322,500 pounds (146,284 kilograms).

The Stratotanker can carry up to 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms) of fuel for inflight refueling. It can also be configured to carry 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms) of cargo, or 80 passengers.

Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker 64-14840 at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Columbus, Ohio, 2018. (Ohio Air National Guard)

The KC-135A was originally powered by four Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W turbojet engines producing 13,750 pounds of thrust (61.163 kilonewtons) for takeoff, using water injection. The fleet has been re-engined with more efficient CFM International CFM56-2B1 (F108-CF-100) engines. Modified airplanes are designated KC-135R. The CFM56-2 is a two-spool, axial-flow, high-bypass turbofan with a single fan stage, 12-stage compressor section (3 low pressure and 9 high pressure stages), annular combustor, and a 5-stage turbine (1 high pressure and 4 low pressure stages). The engine is rated at 21,634 pounds of thrust (96.233 kilonewtons).

The tanker has a maximum speed of 350 knots (402 miles per hour/648 kilometers per hour) below 26,500 feet (8,077 meters), and 0.90 Mach when above that altitude. It has a range of 1,500 miles (2,424 kilometers) when carrying 150,000 pounds (68,039 kilograms) of transfer fuel. The service ceiling is 50,000 feet (15,200 meters).

The newest Stratotanker in service with the United States Air Force, KC-135R 64-14840 is 59 years old. It is presently assigned to the 121st Air Refueling Wing, Ohio Air National Guard.

The final Boeing Stratotanker, KC-135R 64-14840, remains in service with the 121st Air Refueling Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, based at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, Columbus Ohio. (Ohio Air National Guard)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 thoughts on “30 December 1964

  1. In regard of the photograph on your site with the caption “Mustang Mk.I of No. 168 Squadron, Royal Air Force. (RAF)” I am interested in how you came to have this picture. You see it is a cropping that I made from my scan of the original reconnaissance photograph from my late father’s WW II collection.
    The credit below it to Bryan Swopes would seem to me to be somewhat incorrect since I made the actual picture you are displaying.

    1. Good morning, Christopher. Like the majority of photographs on TDiA, this image was found on the Internet. I believe that it was at http://www.rafweb.org/Squadrons/Sqn166-170.htm The image appears to be an official RAF photograph which places it in the public domain. Accordingly, I have credited it to “RAF.” The “© 2016 Bryan R. Swopes” refers to my article, not to the individual photograph.

  2. Hey your sister tanker from Rickenbacher 1431 just arrived for PDM at Tinker AFB. Nice aircraft . Should be done in the spring.

  3. Bryan,

    I just learned of your site, and wonder if you would be interested in adding to add information on the events of 5 January 1943 to this website? On that date my father, BG Kenneth N Walker, and the crew of the B-17F “San Antonio Rose” were lost over New Britain after a bombing mission on Japanese shipping at Rabaul, New Britain. I can supply more information and photos but first wanted to be sure you were interested. This will be the 76th anniversary of the loss and my father and crew are still listed as MIA .

  4. This article is inaccurate about the flight engineer’s position. Four aircraft (serial numbers 63-8058, 63-8059, 63-8060 and 63-8061) were given a unique designation KC-135D as they differed from the KC-135A in that they were built with a flight engineer’s position on the flight deck. The flight engineer’s position was removed when the aircraft were modified to KC-135 standards. The co-pilot served as the flight engineer for systems operations, the boom operator computed weight & balance for performance calculations. For C-135 variants without a boom operator (e.g. RC-135), the copilot served performed all flight engineer functions.

  5. Your article states: “It can also be configured to carry 83,000 pounds (37,648 kilograms) of cargo, or as many as 37 passengers.”

    I flew the KC-135A for quite a few years, and the normal passenger capacity was in the range of 80 to 85 persons. I also flew the KC-135R, and I don’t remember the passenger capability being reduced to “as many as 37 passengers”. I believe there’s an error there.

      1. I don’t know where the 37 came from—typo, maybe—but I just rechecked the –1 and, you are correct (not that that would be a surprise) it indicates provisions for 80 passengers, or 41 with an arctic kit installed. I have changed to article. Thank you for catching my mistake.

  6. Greetings, I was a crew chief on the A model from 82-85 at K.I. Sawyer A.F.B. I did quite a bit of flying and pulled plenty of alert duty. The KC-135A that were at my base had Navs table right behind the co-pilot facing right. The boom operator sat over the entry hatch. They were all on the flight deck.

  7. Regarding the seating capacity of the KC-135, my recollection from crewing in the mid-sixties included a lot of ferry flights and Young Tiger TDYs to Thailand and Okinawa via Guam. When we were carrying troops for the ArcLight rotations at Guam, we would fill 72 troop seats plus baggage and some cargo like B-52 wheels for example. We also installed 2-3 sets of airline seats in the forward crew compartment. We had 3 usable, bunks for the Crew Chiefs as the flight crews changed at each stop to allow for crew rest the Crew Chiefs did not. Even with all these people, we still had room for cargo like B-52 tires for example. The biggest problem was keeping the pis* cans empty.

  8. Brian: Very interesting article on the KC 135. Having repaired radios on the KC 97 at Lincoln A.F.B., Nebraska (SAC) in 1954/57, I am always interested in Tanker information!
    We also had 45 B 47’s with the 307th Bomb Wing. Thank you!

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