The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker: a vital military asset | Airlines


The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a military asset that has served as the backbone of the United States Air Force‘s (USAF’s) aerial refueling fleet for over six decades. It is a versatile aircraft that plays a crucial role in extending the operational range of military jets, enabling them to conduct long-range missions without the need for frequent refueling stops.

The KC-135 Stratotanker has a rich history, plus advanced avionics, unique mission capabilities, and a distinctive design, making it an indispensable asset in military operations worldwide.


The creation of the KC-135 Stratotanker dates back to the early 1950s when USAF recognized the need for a dedicated aerial refueling aircraft. Boeing was awarded a contract in 1954 to develop the KC-135, based on the design of the Boeing 367-80, which eventually evolved into the famous Boeing 707 airliner.

The first produced KC-135A Stratotanker made its maiden flight on August 31, 1956, and it entered service with the USAF in June 1957.

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KC-135 Stratotanker’s mission

The primary mission of the KC-135 Stratotanker is aerial refueling. Equipped with an extendable flying boom, the aircraft can transfer fuel to other aircraft in flight, including fighters, bombers and reconnaissance planes.

This capability significantly enhances the range, endurance and flexibility of military aircraft, allowing them to stay airborne for longer periods and reach distant targets without the need for additional refueling stops. Additionally, the KC-135 can transport passengers and cargo when necessary, making it a multi-role asset.

Features and design

The KC-135 Stratotanker has a highly distinctive design, with swept wings and four turbofan engines mounted under the wings. The aircraft has a robust airframe that allows it to withstand the stresses of air-to-air refueling operations. It can carry up to 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms) …

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