(NSI News Source Info) WASHINGTON - April 6, 2009: After more than 50 years as the military's gas station in the sky -- and a decade of attempts to replace it -- the KC-135 is showing its age. The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a United States aerial refueling tanker aircraft. It has been in service with the United States Air Force since 1957.
The KC-135 is derived from the original Boeing jet transport "proof of concept" demonstrator, the Boeing 367-80 (commonly called the "Dash-80"). As such, it has a narrower fuselage and is shorter than the Boeing 707 jetliner. Boeing gave the tanker the designation of Model 717. The 367-80 was the basic design for the commercial Boeing 707 passenger aircraft as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker. In 1954 the USAF's Strategic Air Command ordered the first 29 of its future fleet of 732. 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. Developed in the late 1950s, the basic airframe is characterized by swept wings and tail, four underwing mounted engine pods, a horizontal stabilizer mounted on the fuselage near the bottom of the vertical stabilizer with positive dihedral on the two horizontal planes and a hi-frequency radio antenna which protrudes forward from the top of the vertical fin or stabilizer. These basic features make it strongly resemble the commercial Boeing 707 and 720 aircraft, although it is actually a different aircraft.
The KC-135R's operational range is 60% greater than the KC-135E for comparable fuel offloads, providing a wider range of basing options. No longer in consideration, upgrading the remaining KC-135E into KC-135R would have cost about three billion dollars, about 24 million dollars per aircraft. According to Air Force data, the KC-135 fleet had a total operation and support cost in fiscal year 2001 of about $2.2 billion. The older E model aircraft averaged total costs of about $4.6 million per aircraft, while the R models averaged about $3.7 million per aircraft. Those costs include personnel, fuel, maintenance, modifications, and spare parts. Multi-Point Refueling System paradrogue and hose, the hose is 74 feet long when fully trailed. This program adds refueling pods to the KC-135's wings. The pods allow refueling of U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and MOST NATO tactical jet aircraft while keeping the tail-mounted refueling boom. The pods themselves are Flight Refueling Limited(FRL)MK32B model pods. This allows the tanker to refuel two receivers at the same time which increases throughput compared to the boom drogue adapter. The tanker planes were built in the late 1950s and early '60s and were supposed to fly for 20 years. But bitter competition between defense contractors and heavy pressure by members of Congress eager to bring jobs to their districts have caused delay in replacing the fleet. Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman propose a bigger plane that can carry more fuel. The plan is to phase out the KC-135 gradually once a new tanker is chosen, but the contractors and their allies in Congress disagree over which plane is better. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates plans to try again this spring to award a new contract. Even if a winner is picked this year, it will be years before new planes roll off the assembly line.