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The KC-135: 60 years of excellence

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Vernon L. Fowler Jr.
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

For 60 years, the KC-135 Stratotanker has executed rapid global mobility through unmatched aerial refueling and airlift support worldwide. Throughout the many major events the Air Force has been a part of, this aircraft continues to stand the test of time.

Almost nine years after the creation of the Air Force in 1947, the first KC-135 flew in August of 1956 and the initial production tanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, California in June 1957. The aircraft was a manifestation of the vision Air Force leaders shared to replace the propeller-powered KC-97 Stratofreighter, which could no longer keep up with fighters and bombers. This marked the beginning of six decades of unyielding effort from tankers and aircrews fueling the fight.

With an inventory of 396 tankers in the Air Mobility Command, the KC-135 boasts a fuel capacity of more than 200,000 pounds and can reach speeds of up to 530 miles per hour, making it unrivaled in the field of aerial refueling.

“Without a doubt in-flight refueling is a force multiplier and a distinct strategic and tactical edge that most of our foes do not possess,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jason Resler, Wing Inspections planner assigned to the 91st Air Refueling Squadron. “The KC-135 is an amazing aircraft and it has been my privilege and honor to fly on it. I am sure that the KC-135 will continue to contribute to the Air Force's global mission well into the foreseeable future.”


The aircraft also provides support for the continuing needs outside of aerial refueling. The KC-135 is capable of carrying 83,000 pounds of cargo and 37 passengers. It often performs in an aero-medical capacity; transporting patients using patient support pallets and a crew of flight nurses and medical technicians.

Along with its countless selfless crew members, the KC-135 has established a distinguished career in support of events ranging from the Vietnam War to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Wherever U.S. airpower has been since the Kennedy administration, you can expect to find a KC-135 involved in ensuring that mission's success,” said Stephen Ove, historian assigned to the 6th Air Mobility Wing. “From Operation Linebacker II, to Operation El Dorado Canyon, to Operation Inherent Resolve, nowhere will you find an aircraft with that breadth of impact across so many of our nation's conflicts than you will find with the KC-135 Stratotanker."


Now, on the cusp of its 60th anniversary, the KC-135 is still as strong as ever. As the Air Force looks to move forward with the KC-46 Pegasus, the KC-135 will continue to “keep ‘em flyin” until it’s time to retire its wings.


"While the Air Force has sought for a decade or so to recapitalize its strategic aerial refueling capability in the next generation KC-46, it has invested millions in incremental upgrades and lifespan extension projects for the KC-135,” said Ove. “Its status as the backbone of the nation's aerial refueling capability for six decades demonstrates the indispensable value of the KC-135 and those who served with it."