61-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft refuels newest USAF fighters


By Dario Leone
Oct 27 2017
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No matter how deadly, the F-35 couldn’t go anywhere or complete any mission without regular fuel-ups from the gas-station-in-the-sky KC-135 Stratotanker

Fairchild Air Force Base (AFB) KC-135 Stratotanker was hard at work refueling six of the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighters, the F-35A Lightning II, over the Pacific Northwest on Oct. 17, 2017.

As explained by Senior Airman Janelle Patiño, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs, in the article Legacy Stratotanker refuels newest Air Force fighters, the F-35 provides next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness and reduced vulnerability for the U.S. and allied nations, but it couldn’t go anywhere or complete any mission without regular fuel-ups from the gas-station-in-the-sky KC-135 Stratotanker.

61-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker refuels newest USAF fighters
Team Fairchild aircrew perform a walk-around of a KC-135 Stratotanker before flying an air refueling mission at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, Oct. 17, 2017.

“It was the crew’s first time refueling not just one, but six of the newest aircraft in the Air Force inventory,” said Capt. Halverstadt, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) pilot. “We were focusing on check rides and getting all [training] requirements completed, but we took a few moments during the flight to remind ourselves we were refueling one of the newest jets. It was definitely exciting.”

KC-135 allow F-35s longer time en route by providing them timely movement and assisting them responsively, delivering and giving them fuel anywhere on the globe to complete their mission.

“KC-135s allow fighters that much more reach. It has a strong history of doing what it takes to get the mission done,” said Capt. Kevin Mulligan, 93rd ARS pilot. “Overall, [in-flight refueling] is key to tactical and strategic operations.”

61-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker refuels newest USAF fighters
Capt. Chad Halverstadt, 93rd Air Refueling Squadron pilot, adjusts the power on a KC-135 Stratotanker during an air refueling mission over the Pacific Northwest Oct. 17, 2017.

Considering the KC-135 is more than 60 years old, the maintenance and upgrades performed on the aircraft to modernize and improve operational effectiveness and efficiency enables its capacity to deliver effective warfighter support at the right time and place.

“The latest update, Block 45, has made [the KC-135] similar to most modern airlines by putting the glass display in the middle with all the engine instruments,” Mulligan said. “By having an LCD display, you can do a software update like any other technology. It’s just like downloading your cellphone software; it streamlines the process and makes it quicker.”

61-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker refuels newest USAF fighters
A Fairchild KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a 388th Fighter Wing F-35A Lighting II during a night mission over the Pacific Northwest Oct. 17, 2017.

“The KC-135 is the backbone to Air Power. We must be an agile force that can go anywhere at a moment’s notice, and without our KC-135 fleet, our ability to accomplish our mission is impossible,” said Lt. Col. Bart Wilbanks, 466th Fighter Squadron F-35 assistant director of operations. “Current operations worldwide are extremely dependent on the KC-135 for almost all the Air Forces core competencies. The F-35 is amazing machine, but without the KC-135 we would be extremely limited to what it could accomplish on a given mission.”

As the 93rd ARS’ motto goes, “Nobody can get any work done without tanker gas.” The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the U.S. Air Force and has excelled in this role for six decades.

KC-135 Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. KC-135R Stratotanker 161st Air Refueling Wing, 197th Air Refueling Squadron “Copperheads”, 63-8038 – Arizona Air National Guard – Sky Harbor ANG Base, AZ

Photo credit: Master Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski and Senior Airman Sean Campbell / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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