Strategic tanker and transport.
The Boeing KC-135 is a landmark type in military aviation. Along with five other types, the KC-135 has the distinction of serving longer than fifty years with it's original operator. Designed to replace the piston-engined KC-97, the KC-135 was needed to refuel SAC's fleet of B-52 and B-58 bombers. A common misconception is that the KC-135 is derived from the Boeing 707 airliner. Boeing's C-135 (Dash 367-80) is the progenitor for the KC-135A. From the outset, the KC-135 was designed as a tanker and not modified from an existing airframe, like many tankers. With close to eight hundred built, the KC-135 is one of the USAF's most numerous types in service.
Hauling gas is not the only task the KC-135 can perform. An out-sized cargo door and area can take palletized cargo or crew. Later modifications gave the KC hose and drogue compatibility with NATO and U.S. Navy types. Fifty six tankers were modified to Q standard and given the task of supporting SR-71 operations around the World. Inflight-refuelling was a Blackbird pilot's most demanding task, not Mach 3 flight. Structural upgrades and digital avionics will see the KC-135 fly into 2020 as the politics of acquisition play out in selecting a replacement design.
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