The Key to America’s Air Dominance: The KC-135 Stratotanker

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During WWII, the US fields hundreds upon hundreds of aerial refueling aircraft several times more than the aerial tankers of every other nation in the world and the backbone of that is the KC-135 Stratotanker. 

Design and Development

The KC-135 Stratotanker was designed to replace its predecessor, the KC-97. 

In 1954, the Air Force’s strategic air command announced a competition to produce a replacement. By 1956, the first production line tanker dubbed the KC-135 Stratotanker took the skies, and was delivered to Castle Air Force Base in California a year later. The age of the KC-Stratotanker has just begun. 

Specs and Capabilities

The Stratotanker has slightly smaller but generally similar outward specifications to the Boeing 737. It featured a length of 136 feet (41.5 meters) and a wingspan of 131 feet (40 meters.)

The plane weighs 100,000 lbs but its engines can support more than three times of that weight. The KC135r is also powered by four turbofan engines with 21,600 lb force to thrust each upgraded significantly from older models and typically can be flown by a crew of three. It also boasts a maximum speed of 580mph or 0.9 times the speed of sound. 

Service Life

The plane first entered service in the 1950s and its first major conflict was the Vietnam War. Before long, they eventually proved themselves to be invaluable to the American War, not just for refueling planes but also for early helicopters whose range was significantly improved. 

During the war, Stratotankers maintained air refueling control points where they would fly in low ovals of several hundred miles circumference.

Notable Incident

Perhaps, one of the plane’s most notable moments during the Vietnam War is the so-called Peanuts Incident. 4 pilots were flying F-105 fighters and were set on to bomb a railroad between North Vietnam and China. 

Caught up in a dogfight, the F105s were used a good deal more fuel than expected. In response, KC 135 flew alone into enemy territory to refuel despite a lack of fighter protection or defenses. All four planes were successfully refueled at the last possible second and everyone got home safely.


There’s no doubt that the KC-135 Stratotanker plays a key role in the US Air fleet, and continues to be a key aircraft in the air dominance of the US. The jet will also continue to operate as a vital American plane for many years up until the next-generation refueling platform is developed.