The KC-135R is a military aerial refueling aircraft used by the United States Air Force and several other allied nations. It is a variant of the original KC-135 Stratotanker, which has been in service since the late 1950s. The “R” in the designation indicates that it is a re-engined version with upgraded engines.
Here are some key features and information about the KC-135R Stratotanker:
Aerial Refueling: The primary role of the KC-135R is to provide aerial refueling support to other military aircraft. It can refuel a variety of aircraft in mid-air, including fighters, bombers, reconnaissance planes, and cargo aircraft. This capability allows extended flight durations and operational flexibility for receiving aircraft.
Airframe and Modifications: The KC-135R is based on the Boeing 707 airframe. It features additional plumbing, fuel transfer systems, and a “flying boom” or “boom operator station” at the rear of the aircraft for refueling operations. The flying boom is an extendable tube through which fuel is transferred to receiver aircraft.
Upgraded Engines: The “R” variant of the KC-135 is equipped with more powerful and fuel-efficient CFM International CFM56 engines. These modern engines provide improved performance, increased fuel efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs compared to the earlier models.
Multi-Mission Capability: Besides aerial refueling, the KC-135R is capable of performing other missions such as cargo transport and aeromedical evacuation (medevac). It can carry both passengers and cargo when not engaged in refueling operations.
Service History: The KC-135R has been in service since the 1980s, and many of the older KC-135 aircraft have undergone upgrades to the “R” configuration. The KC-135 fleet has seen extensive use in various military operations and exercises worldwide.
Replacement and Future: The KC-135 fleet is aging, and the U.S. Air Force has been exploring options for its replacement. The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is the next-generation tanker that is gradually replacing the KC-135 fleet in the United States.
The KC-135R Stratotanker has been a vital asset for the U.S. Air Force and allied nations, providing critical aerial refueling capabilities that extend the range and endurance of military aircraft. Its reliability, versatility, and ability to support a wide range of missions have contributed significantly to military operations over the years.