KC-135 Stratotanker turns 60

Air Force photograph by Kenji Thuloweit

Units around the Air Force wished happy birthday to an old friend Aug. 31.

The KC-135 Stratotanker turned 60 years old this August.

Members of the 418th Flight Test Squadron took some time to gather and commemorate the aerial tanker that has served the Air Force all these years. 

Lt. Col. Eric Bippert, 418th FLTS commander, thanked his squadron members for their hard work and for helping to keep the tanker flying by testing numerous upgrades throughout the years.

Air Mobility Command manages an inventory of 414 Stratotankers, of which the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fly 247 aircraft in support of AMC’s mission.

he KC-135A is based on the Boeing Company’s model 367-80, which was the basic design for the commercial 707 passenger plane. In 1954, the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 732-plane fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, California, in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.

Of the original KC-135As, more than 415 have been modified with new CFM-56 engines produced by CFM-International. The re-engined tanker, designated either the KC-135R or KC-135T, can offload 50 percent more fuel, is 25 percent more fuel efficient, costs 25 percent less to operate and is 96 percent quieter than the KC-135A.

Under another modification program, a re-engined tanker with the TF-33-PW-102 engine was designated the KC-135E. In 2009, the last KC-135E was retired from the inventory.

Through the years, the KC-135 has been altered to do other jobs ranging from flying command post missions to reconnaissance. RC-135s are used for special reconnaissance and Air Force Materiel Command’s NKC-135As are flown in test programs. Air Combat Command operates the OC-135 as an observation platform in compliance with the Open Skies Treaty.

The KC-135RT aircraft continue to undergo life-cycle upgrades to expand their capabilities and improve reliability. Among these are improved communications, navigation, autopilot and surveillance equipment to meet future civil air traffic control needs.