KC-135 Tanker aircraft information

KC-135 Tanker plane
The KC-135 was developed and build before the 707. Boeing build it as 367-80 "DASH EIGHTY" The KC-135 has 4 fuelpumps aboard and can pump 3800 liters of fuel a minute to another plane (for example an E-3A). This means that an E-3A would be filled up with fuel in about 18 minutes.....but after some 6 or 7 minutes the planes will disconnect , because this Air to Air-refueling-operation offers a hell of concentration from the pilots of the -in this case- E-3A. After 6 or 7 minutes they will connect again. The crew of the tanker mostly switch on the "autopilot", for them it's a little more relaxing during these refueling-missions. In the back of the plane operates the "Boom-operater" or "Boomer". Through a window he has eye-contact with the E-3A, and can steer the boom at the back of the tanker. (see photo above). The boom is about 9 meters long, So when flying on 8.5 kilometer with a speed of 800 kilometers/hour the distance between the planes is only 9 meters! NATO uses 6 refueling-area's in Germany:
Normally there are 4 persons on board a KC-135 on its missions from Airbase Geilenkirchen : 1 Pilot, 1 Co-pilot, 1 navigator and 1 boom-operator. The planes operating from Geilenkirchen Airbase are usually from the "Air National Guard" (ANG) of the USAF (United States AirForce) . The crewmembers are reservists. The crew and their planes are normally Geilenkirchen for a period of 2 weeks, and after this period they will return to the USA and they will be replaced with a new crew.
During the past Gulf-wars, many planes were refueled by KC-135's
Click here for a splendid photogallery of a refueling mission of a KC-135 overhead northern Germany
See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_KC-135_Stratotanker
KC-135 Stratotanker Specifications :
A KC-135 is 40.80 meters long , 11.50 meters high , and 39.20 meters from wingtip to wingtip. The maximum flightlevel is 50.000 feet (15.152 meters) , and the maximum speed is 610 mph (mach 0.93) on 30.000 feet (9100 meters). The empty weight is 53.654 kilograms (119.231 lbs) , The maximum takeoff-weight is 145.125 kilograms (322.500 lbs). Maximum flight-distance is 11.192 kilometers (9732 nautical miles) with 54.000 (120.000) kilograms of transfer-fuel on board. USAF owns 457 KC-135's , ANG owns 148 KC-135's , and there are another 30 KC-135's in reserve.


Boeing KC-135's support NATO E-3A AWACS

Parked alongside the E-3A AWACS, with their characteristic rotating antennae mounted on the upper side of the fuselage, at the Geilenkirchen NATO air base near Aachen are other members of the Boeing-707 family. Three of the four-engined aircraft are used for pilot training and, if required, can also be used to transport passengers and cargo to forward bases. At the east end of the apron two KC-135 tankers are usually to be seen. “We are expected to provide aircraft 44 weeks a year,” explains Rick Keasey, who is the US Air National Guard (ANG)'s full-time representative at NATO's E-3A unit.

The foreign military sales contract with the ANG has been in existence for over 15 years. The Alliance currently purchases 850 flying hours per year for Geilenkirchen from the Guard Bureau in Washington, “and another 100 to support the British E-3D component in Waddington,” adds Keasey, who in his present post has the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel. After consulting with the E-3A unit, the liaison officer, who previously served at the 126th Air Refueling Wing at Scott AFB in Illinois, forwards the requirement for the following year to Washington every July. There a planning conference is held for the tanker units in August – this is quite important for the US armed forces overall, as half of all the KC-135's – 250 aircraft – are operated by the Guard.

The ANG has not escaped the impact of base realignment and closure (BRAC) over the last few years, so that today there are only two dozen tanker squadrons left. The probability of being deployed to Geilenkirchen at some point in the year is therefore high, as the 44 weeks (after taking out Christmas, Easter and summer holidays) are normally covered in two-week stints. For example, aircraft from the 161st, 186th and 171st Air Refueling Wings were recent visitors to the NATO base.

Geilenkirchen is one of the most popular transfer locations. “Here the missions are relatively simple and routine. The reception you get at the base is very friendly and in one's free time there is quite a bit to explore in the surrounding area,” says Lt. Col. Keasey in the ANG building directly by the flightline in Geilenkirchen during a visit by FLUG REVUE. “The AWACS tank job is regarded as the last good deal in the Guard,” compared with jobs in the Middle East or on Guam which are a lot more stressful.

KC-135 waiting for takeoff clearance at Geilenkirchen Airbase

After all, most of the pilots and technicians of the Air National Guard normally work in a civil profession and only put in one weekend per month plus one three week spell per year with the military.

Each squadron decides itself how the sought-after places will be allocated. To operate two KC-135R's in Europe requires three crews (each consisting of pilot, co-pilot and a Boomer to operate the tank boom), plus six crew chiefs and a dozen technicians. On the transatlantic trip the men fly in one tanker, while the other one is laden with spare parts stowed in six cargo pallets. As soon as the Stratotanker lands in Geilenkirchen, usually on a Monday morning, the crew are allocated their rooms on the base and briefed by the liaison officer. The liaison offer will already have his flight plan ready for the current week, this having normally been prepared the Thursday before.

“Generally we try and fly two missions a day,” explains Lt. Col. Keasey. “As we are allowed to fly from eight in the morning to ten at night, and we don't have the staff for two shifts, the maintenance team's hours can be quite long.” On the other hand, it is not usually a lot of work, as the KC-135R's are very reliable despite their age. But things can get hectic when an aircraft fails and the spare part needed is not in stock. This must then be ordered by computer and flown in using a civil express delivery company. “We then try to get the remaining, serviceable Stratotanker in the air twice or to combine two missions.” In such cases an extra pilot and a second boom operator are carried on board if the flight is a long one.

As already mentioned, refuelling the E-3A is routine for the crew. According to the recently published NATO Allied Technical Publication 56(B), there are precise procedures to follow in refuelling, so that no special preparation is needed before being transferred over to Germany. In Geilenkirchen itself, the crews receive an Air Refueling Contact Time (ARCT) for each mission. This tells them at what time they have to be on station. They plan their flight accordingly. After receiving a weather update and briefing, they are at the aircraft about an hour before take-off.

Usually the KC-135's do not have to go far to make contact with the E-3As, as often they will be flying one of four tanker tracks above the Germany, which have names like “Erika”, “Gretchen”, “Kim” and “Sandy”. The KC-135 takes up a position at an altitude of about 8,800m (FL 270 to FL 300) with a speed of 510km/h. 15 minutes before contact time, the AWACS crew radio in and give their callsign, IFF and actual time of arrival. The E-3A's fly 300m below the KC-135 at first and slowly close in at a speed of 575km/h until they start the approach phase at a distance of 5km. Final checks are carried out once the AWACS has closed to 1.5km away, then the Boomer takes over and guides the AWACS pilot into the correct position behind the tanker over the radio and using light signals.

The two four-engined aircraft have to fly extremely close to each other in order that the up to 14.3m long tank boom can be inserted into the receptacle directly behind the cockpit of the E-3A. “While this is going on you sometimes see the E-3A pilot working pretty hard to stay in position,” says Lt. Col. Rick Keasey. “For us it is less of a problem, as usually the autopilot is switched on after contact and then the KC-135 is as stable as a rock in the sky. We only have to fly the turns ourselves.” Long straight stretches (up to 225km) in the refuelling circuit are very welcome since, at a maximum flow of 2,720kg of fuel per minute, it can easily take a quarter of an hour before the E-3A's tanks are full again.

The entire procedure is part of the training programme of the E-3A pilots and has to be practised several times a year. “That's why we are here,” says Lt. Col. Keasey, “But the missions are also good training for our crew that we wouldn't want to do without.” The KC-135's of the Air National Guard will therefore remain part of the normal routine in Geilenkirchen for the foreseeable future.

Source : FLUG REVUE 1/2008


Pictures of the KC-135 Strato-tanker



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