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KC-135 Stratotanker Boeing
C-135 Stratolifter
KC-135 Stratotanker
Cargo Transport
Refueling Tanker

When Boeing began the 707 project in the early 1950s, the company gambled on the expensive and ambitious program hoping that the US military would also purchase the design as a jet-powered refueling tanker. The gamble paid off when, in 1954, the US Air Force announced its decision to purchase the 707 as a tanker and transport. The resulting Boeing 717, better known as the KC-135 and C-135, has become one of the most widely used and flexible aircraft in the Air Force inventory since its inception in the mid-1950s. While the principal transport variant, the C-135B, was soon replaced by the C-141 StarLifter, updated KC-135 Stratotankers, EC-135 command posts, and RC-135 reconnaissance platforms continue to serve in large numbers.

Though based on the 707, the C-135 family differs in having a smaller diameter fuselage, no cabin windows, reduced weight, and lower passenger capacity. All tanker equipment, including an extendable refueling boom, is located on the lower deck in the KC-135 while the C-135 transport model provides room for up to 126 troops or cargo. Early models were powered by turbojets and progressive upgrade programs have seen these replaced by Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans and more recently CFM F108 turbofans with increased thrust and much lower fuel consumption.

The principal model remaining in service is the KC-135R tanker whose updates allow it to do the job of three of the original KC-135As. Other notable applications of the C-135 include the EC-135B and EC-135N missile and spacecraft tracking models used to support the Apollo Moon missions as well as the RC-135S and RC-135X models used to track ballistic missiles. Also noteworthy are the EC-135C airborne command post as well as the RC-135U and RC-135V electronic surveillance variants used to collect signals intelligence on enemy air defense and communications systems. One of the most unique models is the OC-135B that flies over foreign nations photographing their military installations as part of the Open Skies Treaty.

Data below for KC-135R
Last modified 06 April 2011

First Flight (KC-135A) 31 August 1956
(C-135A) 19 May 1961
Service Entry (KC-135A) 28 June 1957
(C-135A) 8 June 1961
(OC-135) June 1993
Retirement (KC-135E) 23 September 2009

CREW: (KC-135) four: pilot, co-pilot, 2 cargo crew
(OC-135) seven: pilot, co-pilot, relief pilot, two navigators, mission commander, deputy mission commander, two sensor operators, two sensor maintenance technicians, flight follower
(RC-135) 26: pilot, co-pilot, two navigators, three electronic warfare officers, 14 intelligence operators, four maintenance technicians

(C-135) 126 troops, 44 stretchers


(KC-135A) $26.1 million
(KC-135E) $30.6 million
(KC-135R) $52.2 million

Wing Root BAC 310/311/312
Wing Tip

BAC 313

Length 136.25 ft (41.53 m)
Wingspan 130.83 ft (39.88 m)
Height 41.67 ft (12.70 m)
Wing Area 2,433.0 ft² (226.03 m²)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty (KC-135A) 98,465 lb (44,665 kg)
(C-135B) 102,300 lb (46,405 kg)
(KC-135R) 119,230 lb (54,080 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff (KC-135A) 297,000 lb (134,720 kg)
(C-135B) 275,000 lb (124,740 kg)
(KC-135R) 322,500 lb (146,285 kg)
Fuel Capacity (KC-135R) 203,290 lb (92,210 kg)
Max Payload

83,000 lb (37,650 kg)

Powerplant (KC-135A) four Pratt & Whitney J57-59W or J57-43WB turbojets
(C-135B) four Pratt & Whitney TF33-3 turbofans
(KC-135E) four Pratt & Whitney TF33-102 turbofans
(KC-135R) four CFM International F108-CF-100 turbofans
Thrust (KC-135A) 55,000 lb (244.7 kN)
(C-135B) 72,000 lb (320.3 kN)
(KC-135E) 72,000 lb (320.3 kN)
(KC-135R) 88,000 lb (391.4 kN)

Max Level Speed at altitude: 610 mph (980 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m), Mach 0.93
at sea level: unknown
cruise speed: 530 mph (850 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,150 m)
Initial Climb Rate (KC-135A) 1,290 ft (395 m) / min
Service Ceiling (KC-135A) 36,000 ft (10,980 m)
(C-135B) 44,000 ft (13,425 m)
(KC-135R) 50,000 ft (15,255 m)
Range typical: 1,305 nm (2,420 km) with 150,000 lb (68,040 kg) transfer fuel
ferry: 9,590 nm (17,770 km)
g-Limits unknown

Gun none
Stations none
Air-to-Air Missile none
Air-to-Surface Missile none
Bomb none
Other none

Model 367-80 Original Boeing designation for the 707 and 717 program
Model 717 Boeing designation for the military version of the 707, not to be confused with the current Boeing 717 (originally known as the McDonnell Douglas MD-95) which is a completely different aircraft
KC-135A Stratotanker First production model for an Air Force in-flight refueling tanker; 732 built
C-135A Stratolifter Long-range transport model; 15 built
EC-135A KC-135A airframes converted to communications relay platforms and airborne command posts
JKC-135A Test aircraft converted from KC-135A models
NC-135A C-135A aircraft modified to monitor tests of nuclear weapons; 3 converted
NKC-135A KC-135A aircraft fitted with a variety of additional systems and used for test purposes; 26 converted
RC-135A KC-135A airframes modified with photo-reconnaissance and mapping equipment; 4 converted
VC-135A VIP transport
C-135B Similar to the C-135A model but built with turbofan engines and a larger tailplane; 30 built
EC-135B ARIA Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft rebuilt from C-135B airframes and fitted with a large radar in a bulbous nose radome used to track missiles and spacecraft; at least 4 converted
KC-135B In-flight refueling tanker equipped with command and communications equipment, later redesignated EC-135C; 17 built
OC-135B Open Skies WC-135B airframes modified as observation aircraft and fitted with four cameras for taking photos over countries who are signatories to the Open Skies Treaty; 3 converted
RC-135B Electronic reconnaissance model, never had any equipment installed or used operationally, but immediately converted to RC-135C models; 10 built
VC-135B VIP transport rebuilt from C-135B models; 11 converted
WC-135B Long-range weather reconnaissance model rebuilt from former C-135B airframes; 10 converted
C-135C Former WC-135B aircraft converted back to transports
EC-135C New designation for KC-135B airborne command centers
RC-135C RC-135B aircraft modified with side-looking airborne radar (SLAR) pods, undernose radomes, and a camera bay; 10 converted
KC-135D Former RC-135A aircraft modified as refueling tankers; 4 converted
RC-135D KC-135A and C-135A airframes modified for use in re-entry vehicle photography; 7 converted
C-135E C-135A airframes re-engined with Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofans
KC-135E KC-135A models re-engined with turbofan engines salvaged from former civil 707 aircraft; 161 converted
NKC-135E Test aircraft fitted with TF33 turbofans; 1 converted
RC-135E Former C-135B aircraft fitted with a large radome around the forward fuselage; 1 converted
C-135F or KC-135F Transport and tanker model sold to France; 12 built
C-135FR C-135F aircraft re-engined with CFM56 turbofans
EC-135G KC-135A aircraft converted to a similar standard as the EC-135A but with a revised cabin arrangement, used as airborne command control centers for ballistic missile launch or communications relays; 4 converted
EC-135H Airborne command posts rebuilt from KC-135A airframes plus a VC-135A and equipped with more advanced equipment; 5 converted
EC-135J Rebuilt EC-135C airframes similar to the EC-135H but powered by turbofans and used as National Emergency Airborne Command Posts; 4 converted
EC-135K KC-135A airframes modified with additional communications equipment for use in fighter deployment support; 2 converted
EC-135L KC-135A airframes rebuilt as communications relays and command posts; 5 converted
RC-135M Electronic reconnaissance model rebuilt from C-135B and VC-135B airframes and fitted with a thimble-nose radome, fuselage fairings, and a variety of antennae; at least 6 converted
EC-135N C-135A models modified to carry a 7 ft (2.13 m) diameter parabolic dish antenna in the nose for the tracking of spacecraft; 8 converted
EC-135P Airborne command post rebuilt from KC-135A, NKC-135A, and EC-135H airframes; 4 converted
KC-135Q KC-135A aircraft modified to serve as tankers for the SR-71 Blackbird; 56 converted
KC-135R Original designation for KC-135A airframes modified for special reconnaissance duties; 4 converted
KC-135R Designation for extensively modernized KC-135A and KC-135E aircraft fitted with new CFM F108 turbobans, updated avionics, and a new APU; 371 converted
RC-135S Cobra Ball Reconnaissance model fitted with large dipole aerials; 3 converted
TC-135S RC-135S trainer with a reduced equipment fit; 1 converted
RC-135T KC-135R airframe fitted with a thimble-nose radome and other avionics used for classified electronics surveillance; 1 converted
RC-135U Combat Sent RC-135C aircraft fitted with specialized avionics, an undernose radome, fuselage fairings for a SLAR, and several antennae on the aft fuselage and tail; 3 converted
RC-135V Rivet Joint RC-135C airframes and a RC-135U rebuilt with a thimble-nose radome, SLAR, and several underfuselage aerials; 8 converted
RC-135W Former RC-135M models fitted with similar equipment as the RC-135V; 6 converted
TC-135W RC-135V and RC-135W trainer with a reduced equipment fit; 1 converted
WC-135W Constant Phoenix C-135B model modified as an atmospheric collection aircraft that takes air samples to support the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963; 1 converted
RC-135X Cobra Eye Model similar to the RC-135S and equipped for missile re-entry vehicle surveillance; 1 converted
EC-135Y Airborne command post


Vietnam War (USAF, 1965-1972)
Libya - Operation El Dorado Canyon (USAF [KC-135], 1986)
Iraq - Operation Desert Storm (USAF [KC-135], 1991)
Bosnia - Operation Deliberate Force (USAF [KC-135, RC-135], France [C-135], 1995)
Kosovo - Operation Allied Force (USAF, 1999)
US Homeland Security - Operation Noble Eagle (USAF [KC-135], 2001-present)
Afghanistan - Operation Enduring Freedom (USAF [RC-135], 2001-present)
Iraq - Operation Iraqi Freedom (USAF [RC-135], 2003-present)
Libya - Operation Unified Protector (France, Spain, USAF [KC-135, RC-135], 2011)


Australia (Royal Australian Air Force)
Brazil, Força Aérea Brasileira (Brazilian Air Force)
Canada (Canadian Armed Forces, Air Command)
France, Armée de l'Air (French Air Force)
Israel, Tsvah Haganah le Israel - Heyl Ha'Avir (Israeli Defence Force - Air Force)
Italy, Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force)
Morocco, Al Quwwat al Jawiyya al Malakiya Marakishiya (Royal Moroccan Air Force)
Singapore (Republic of Singapore Air Force)
South Africa, Suid-Afrikaanse Lugmag (South African Air Force)
Spain, Ejército del Aire Española (Spanish Air Force)
Turkey, Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (Turkish Air Force)
United States (US Air Force)
Venezuela, Fuerza Aérea Venezolana (Venezuelan Air Force)


C-135 Stratolifter

  • Bonds, Ray, ed. The Modern US War Machine: An Encyclopedia of American Military Equipment and Strategy. NY: Military Press, 1987, p. 172.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 165-167.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995, p. 61-63.
  • Paul Nann's Military Aviation Photo Gallery
  • Rendall, David. Jane's Aircraft Recognition Guide, 2nd ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999, p. 132-135.
  • US Air Force KC-135, OC-135, RC-135, & WC-135 Factsheets

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