The KC-135 is the most widely flown tanker aircraft in
history. It's principal mission is air refueling. The
KC-135 was originally purchased for the Strategic Air Command to
refuel it's bombers in-flight, thus extending their range and
flying time. The huge bombers consumed a lot of fuel and its
was transferred to them from the tanker through a huge four-inch
diameter flying boom. During the Vietnam War, KC-135
Stratotankers permitted B-52s to strike distant targets.
As the Cold War wound down, the planes
were adapted to other aerial refueling missions. Special
drogue type refueling equipment was installed that permitted
refueling several smaller planes, such as fighters, at one
time. This has helped the Air Force to accomplish its
primary missions of Global Reach and Global Power. This was
well demonstrated during the Persian Gulf War. With the help
of aerial refueling, entire wings of relatively short-range
fighters were able to fly directly from the United States to
overseas bases. A wing of B-52s flew from California to
Iran, bombed Baghdad, then flew back home. Combat aircraft,
no longer limited by fuel supplies, were able to spend more time
in target areas. Today, the KC-135 Stratotankers
provide aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine
Corps aircraft as well as the aircraft of allied nations.
It all began with the Boeing
Company's model 367-80, which was the basic design for the
commercial 707 passenger plane as well as the 135 series.
The Air Force wanted it as an airborne tanker and in 1954
purchased its first 29 KC-135. The first aircraft flew in
August 1956 and the first planes were delivered to Castle Air
Force Base, Calif., in June 1957.
749 tanker were built. The last was
delivered in 1965. Boeing also built 88 similar aircraft for
other Air Force uses. The pure transports were designated
C-135 stratofreighters, but others were used for flying
command posts, electronic reconnaissance and photo mapping. The
last of these special-purpose aircraft was delivered in late 1966.
More than 600 of all types of C-135s / KC-135s are still