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Boeing C-135 Stratolifter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

C-135 Stratolifter
Boeing C-135C 61-2669 Speckled Trout.jpg
C-135C Speckled Trout
Role Transport aircraft
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 17 August 1956
Introduction June 1957
Status Active service
Primary user United States Air Force
Produced 1954–1965
Number built 60
Unit cost
US$39.6 million (FY98 constant dollars)
Developed from Boeing 367-80
Variants Boeing EC-135
Boeing NC-135
Boeing RC-135
OC-135B Open Skies
WC-135 Constant Phoenix

The Boeing C-135 Stratolifter is a transport aircraft derived from the prototype Boeing 367-80 jet airliner (also the basis for the 707) in the early 1950s. It has a narrower fuselage and is shorter than the 707. Boeing gave the aircraft the internal designation of Model 717.[1] Since the first one was built in August 1956, the C-135 and its variants have been a fixture of the United States Air Force.


A large majority of the 820 -135 units built were KC-135A Stratotankers, used for mid-air refueling. Forty-five base-model aircraft were built as C-135A or C-135B transports with the tanking equipment excluded. As is the case with the KC-135, the C-135 is also recognized as the Model 717 by Boeing.[2]


Fifteen C-135As, powered by Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojets, were built. In later years, almost all were upgraded with Pratt & Whitney TF33 turbofan engines and wide-span tail planes, and were re-designated C-135E. Most were converted to various special roles, including airborne command posts, missile-tracking platforms, and VIP transports, and were withdrawn throughout the 1990s.[3]


C-135B Stratolifter for VIP transport parked on the flight line at Andrews AFB
C-135B Stratolifter for VIP transport parked on the flight line at Andrews AFB

Thirty C-135Bs were built with the TF33 turbofans and wide-span tail planes from the start, and a small number remain in service in their original form. Ten were modified for a weather reconnaissance (flying through radioactive clouds from nuclear tests or other agents) role and designated WC-135B Stratolifter (Constant Phoenix in later versions). Additional airframes were converted to RC-135s from the 1970s to 2006, and remain in service with further equipment upgrades installed.


The C-135C designation applies to three WC-135B weather reconnaissance aircraft, which reverted to transport status. Most of the other C-135Bs were converted to various special mission variants following their service with the Military Airlift Command.

Although most of the remaining C-135 aircraft are used for transporting senior military leaders and other high-ranking dignitaries, the C-135C communications aircraft serves as an aerial test-bed for emerging technologies. Developmental tests using this aircraft have demonstrated the capability to fly precision approaches using a local area differential GPS system. This modified C-135 has been fitted with a millimeter wave camera and a radome to test the camera's generation of video images of the forward scene in low-visibility conditions. The aircraft, which in the VIP/Distinguished Visitor (DV) transport role seats 14 passengers, also gives a Joint Forces Air Component Commander (JFACC) a limited ability to plan and control the simulated battle while in the air en route to the crisis area.

Speckled Trout

The C-135C Speckled Trout at Edwards Air Force Base
The C-135C Speckled Trout at Edwards Air Force Base

Speckled Trout is the official name of a combined SAF/CSAF support mission and concurrent test mission. It was also the official nickname given to a modified C-135C, serial number 61–2669, that was used by the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force for executive transport requirements. Fully equipped with an array of communications equipment, data links and cryptographic sets, the aircraft served a secondary role as a testbed for proposed command and control systems and was also used to evaluate future transport aircraft design. The 412th Flight Test Squadron (412 FLTS) of the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Edwards AFB, California operated the C-135 Speckled Trout airframe and managed its test mission.

The name Speckled Trout applies to both the organization and the aircraft. The name was chosen in honor of an early program monitor, Faye Trout, who assisted in numerous phases of the project. The word "speckled" was added because Trout apparently had "a lot of freckles".

Speckled Trout acquired the C-135C, serial number 61–2669, in 1974 and retired the aircraft on 13 January 2006. An interim aircraft was in use for the Speckled Trout mission until the 2008 delivery of the current aircraft, a modified KC-135R Stratotanker serial number 63–7980 with a more modern communications architecture testbed. The current KC-135R Speckled Trout also supports additional tests and air refueling requirements that the C-135C could not.[4]


The C-135Fs were new-built aircraft used by France as dual-role tanker/cargo and troop carrier aircraft.[5]


Cargo/passenger variant of the KC-135A with seating for 126 passengers and powered by four J57-P-59W engines, 18 built.[6] It is given the Boeing model number 717-157.[2]


The same as C-135A but fitted with four TF33-P-5 turbofan engines, 30 built. The five VC-135B special VIP fitted aircraft were re-designated C-135B during the Carter administration.[6] It is given the model number 717-158.[2]


Three C-135B aircraft that had been modified to WC-135B standard were later reverted but retained an air-to-air refuelling capacity so were designated C-135C.[6]


Three C-135A aircraft modified with four TF33-PW-102 engines and then used as EC-135Ns were later re-designated C-135E for use in the combat support role.[6]


Tanker variant for France similar to the KC-135A but did not use the K prefix, 12 built.[6] It is given the Boeing model number 717-164.[2]


One former EC-135K modified for VIP use for CINCPAC.[6]


Eleven French C-135F tanker aircraft modified with four CFM56 engines.[6]

Accidents and incidents

See the respective pages

About three dozen KC-135 Stratotankers have crashed.

  • 11 May 1964: A USAF/MATS C-135B, (Serial Number 61-0332), was on a Military Air Transport Service (MATS) flight from Fairfield-Travis AFB, CA (SUU) to Clark AB in the Philippines via Honolulu-Hickam AFB, HI (HIK). Thunderstorms were in the area as the flight approached Clark AB. An indefinite ceiling was at 300 feet and visibility was 2000 m. The crew carried out a Precision approach radar (PAR) approach to runway 02. The aircraft descended below the glidepath and the crew were urged to initiate go around as the C-135 had descended below the PAR lower safety limit. By then, the co-pilot had the runway in sight and the approach was continued. On final, the undercarriage struck the perimeter fence. The airplane struck a TACAN facility, hit the ground and slid across a road, striking a cab and killing the driver. The airplane broke up and caught fire. Five of the ten crewmembers and all 74 passengers were fatally injured, along with the unfortunate cab driver.[7]
  • 25 June 1965: A USAF/MATS C-135A, (Serial number 60-0373), carrying 85 US Marine Corps personnel was flying from MCAS El Toro to Okinawa. Weather was poor at El Toro when the airplane was ready to depart: thick fog and light drizzle. Takeoff was accomplished at night at 01:45 from runway 34R. After takeoff, the pilot should have made a prescribed left turn. Instead, the airplane continued straight ahead. It contacted the 1,300-foot Loma Ridge, some 150 feet below the crest. The aircraft broke up and burst into flames. The crash killed all 12 crewmembers and 72 other personnel on board.[8]
  • 1 July 1972: A French Air Force C-135F (38473) was on a weather reconnaissance mission associated with a planned nuclear test. The aircraft lost power on one Pratt & Whitney J-57 engine and crashed into the sea near Hao Island Airport, French Polynesia (HOI/NTTO). There were no survivors among the six crewmembers.[9]
  • 19 March 1985: A USAF 8th AF KC-135A (Serial Number 61-0316) caught fire during ground refueling at Cairo International Airport, Egypt (CAI). The interior of the airplane was burned out and the aircraft was written off as damaged beyond repair although the wing structure was used in repairing KC-135A, Serial Number 58-0014 (which was later converted to a KC-135E). There were no injuries reported.[10]

Aircraft on display

  • 59-1481 – Built as C-135A, went to NASA as N930NA, On display at Ellington Field, Texas
  • 60-0374 – The Bird of Prey Built as a C-135A, later converted to EC-135N, and later to EC-135E. Retired Nov 2, 2000. On display at National Museum of the US Air Force, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio; nose art remains.[11][12]
  • 60-0377 – Built as a C-135A. Used as B-2 avionics flying testbed. To Edwards AFB museum, California in 1996;[13] in museum storage.[14]
  • 61-0327 – Built as a C-135A, later converted to EC-135N, but with E-model engines installed. On display at Museum of Aviation (Warner Robins) at Robins, AFB, Georgia.[15]
  • 61-2669 – Built as a C-135B, later converted to WC-135B. Spent a few months at MASDC in 1972. Later used as a Speckled Trout research aircraft and redesignated C-135C. Also the personal transport of the USAF Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Henry Hugh Shelton, from 1997 to 2001. Made last flight Jan 13, 2006. Now with the Edwards AFB Museum, California;[16] in museum storage.[14]
  • 61-2671 – Built as a C-135B, later converted to WC-135B. Crashed on runway in 1970, but was repaired. Later converted to C-135C executive transport. Now on display at Tinker AFB Air Park, Oklahoma.[17]

Specifications (C-135)

General characteristics


See also

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


  1. ^ "Historical Perspective, Start of a PROUD MISSION" Archived 2014-06-12 at the Wayback Machine, Boeing Frontiers, July 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d "KC-135". US Archived from the original on February 5, 2013. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  3. ^ "1960 USAF Serial Numbers". Archived from the original on 23 February 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  4. ^ Air Force article on Speckled Trout retirement Archived March 9, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ DoD 4120.14L, Model Designation of Military Aerospace Vehicles, May 12, 2004
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Pither 1998, pp. 62–86
  7. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing C-135B Stratolifter 61-0332 Angeles City-Clark Air Base (CRK)". Archived from the original on 16 November 2017. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  8. ^ Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on 25 June 2013.
  9. ^</0
  10. ^ Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker 61-0316 Cairo International Airport (CAI)". Archived from the original on 20 March 2018. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  11. ^ "USAF Serial Number Search (60-374)".
  12. ^ "Boeing EC-135E ARIA". Archived from the original on 2017-12-25. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  13. ^ "USAF Serial Number Search (60-377)".
  14. ^ a b "Flight Test Historical Foundation museum aircraft inventory, Retrieved 2017-12-19". Archived from the original on 2017-01-02. Retrieved 2017-12-19.
  15. ^ "USAF Serial Number Search (61-327)".
  16. ^ "USAF Serial Number Search (61-2669)".
  17. ^ "USAF Serial Number Search (61-2671)".

External links

This page was last edited on 7 May 2020, at 00:38
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