Cold War Era

The Story of the KC-135 Stratotanker pilot that went into a 20-degree dive to refuel a flamed out F-105 Thunderchief

The KC-135 Stratotanker

The Boeing Company’s model 367-80 was the basic design for the commercial 707 passenger plane as well as the KC-135A Stratotanker. In 1954, the Air Force purchased the first 29 of its future 732-plane fleet. The first aircraft flew in August 1956 and the initial production Stratotanker was delivered to Castle Air Force Base, Calif., in June 1957. The last KC-135 was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.

The KC-135 played a decisive role during the Vietnam War too, where the Stratotanker not only allowed heavy fighter-bombers to reach North Vietnamese targets and return, but also towed them back to their bases when they were badly damaged by enemy action.

KC-135 Stratotanker into dive to refuel an F-105 Thunderchief

One Stratotanker even went into dive to save two F-105s that were low on fuel.

As told by Walter J. Boyne in an interesting article appeared on Air & Space Forces Magazine, in May 1967, to locate two F-105s that were critically short on fuel, a KC-135 flown by Maj. Alvin L. Lewis battled through violent thunderstorms.

After having found the F-105s in a clear area, Lewis put his tanker into a 20-degree dive so that he could position himself in front of the first fighter, which had already flamed out. The Thud was gliding earthward, its pilot preparing to eject, when the diving Stratotanker passed in front to a refueling position.

F-105s safely RTB

All check lists and preliminaries were forgotten as the F-105 hooked up and took on enough fuel to air-start the engine. The tanker transferred a little fuel, then increased its dive angle to 30 degrees to get enough air through the intake of the fighter to spool it up to starting RPM. Lewis then refueled the second F-105, itself now about ready to flame out.

Both 105s made it home.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

This print is available in multiple sizes from – 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
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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