50 Years of KC-135s at Fairchild

  • Published
  • By Dan Simmons
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Historian
On Feb. 21, 1958, the new all-jet Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers began arriving at Fairchild. At the time, the 92nd Air Refueling Squadron was flying the propeller-driven KB-29 tanker, an aircraft modified from B-29 bombers for the purpose of air refueling. The KC-135 was the first aircraft designed specifically as an air refueler, and it filled the need for a jet tanker to handle the faster jet bombers coming off the assembly line.

When the first KC-135 arrived at Fairchild in 1958, I suspect few people ever imagined it would still be here today, 50 years later.

The roll-out of the KC-135 occurred on Aug 31, 1956. The Air Force received its first Stratotanker on June 28, 1957, at Castle AFB, Calif. The 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, now a unit in the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, was stationed at Castle then and became the first Air Force unit to fly the new tanker.

While Fairchild received its first KC-135 in February 1958, the process of converting from B-29s to KC-135s lasted over six months, completing on Sept. 11, 1958.

The Air Force purchased more than 700 KC-135s, with the last one being delivered in 1965. A derivative of the Boeing 367-80, which also became the Boeing 707 airliner, the KC-135 looks much different today than it did in 1958 when it landed here.

Fairchild had the original A-model KC-135 for over 32 years. One of the most memorable characteristics of the A model was its water injection system. Since the aircraft's engines were under-powered on hot days, water was injected into the air inlet and diffuser section of each engine to increase the density of inlet and combustion air and thus increase thrust on the engines. Although water injection did increase thrust, it also produced loud noise and black smoke that was not always environmentally pleasing. With the advent of the KC-135 R model, that problem was solved.

Fairchild received its first R model, the "Lilac Princess," on Aug. 27, 1990. The R- model modification included new, more powerful engines that not only increased thrust but were also much quieter and cleaner. The modification also included a number of other sub-system upgrades, including new auxiliary power units.

Today's KC-135 includes a glass cockpit and other major avionics upgrades that allow it to remain viable in today's airspace environment.

The KC-135 has built a legacy of excellence in the wing since arriving here in 1958. Congratulations to the old tanker for 50 years of outstanding service at Fairchild.