The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, besides being used extensively in its primary role as an inflight aircraft refueler, has assisted in several projects at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California.
In 1957 and 1958, Dryden was asked by what was then the Civil Aeronautics Administration (later absorbed into the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1958) to help establish new approach procedure guidelines on cloud-ceiling and visibility minimums for Boeing's first jet airliner, the B-707. Dryden used a KC-135, the military variant of the 707, to aid the CAA in these tests.
In 1979 and 1980, Dryden was again involved with general aviation research with the KC-135. This time, a special wingtip "winglet", developed by Richard Whitcomb of Langley Research Center, was tested on the jet aircraft. Winglets are small, nearly vertical fins installed on an airplane's wing tips to help produce a forward thrust in the vortices that typically swirl off the end of the wing, thereby reducing drag. This winglet idea was tested at the Dryden Flight Research Center on a KC-135A tanker loaned to NASA by the Air Force. The research showed that the winglets could increase an aircraft's range by as much as 7 percent at cruise speeds. The first application of NASA's winglet technology in industry was in general aviation business jets, but winglets are now being incorporated into most new commercial and military transport jets, including the Gulfstream III and IV business jets, the Boeing 747-400 and MD-11 airliners, and the C-17 military transport.
In the 1980's, a KC-135 was used in support of the Space Shuttle program. Since the Shuttle was to be launched from Florida, researchers wanted to test the effect of rain on the sensitive thermal tiles. Tiles were mounted on special fixtures on an F-104 aircraft and a P-3 Orion. The F-104 was flown in actual rain conditions, and also behind the KC-135 spray tanker as it released water. The KC-135, however, proved incapable of simulating enough rain impact damage and was dropped from the tests.
- The Boeing Military Airplane 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 fleet of 732. 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-135A was delivered to the Air Force in 1965.
- U.S. Air Force Active, 457; Reserve, 30; ANG, 158
- Length: 136' 3" / 41.53 M
- Height: 38' 4" / 11.68 M
- Wingspan: 130' 10" / 39.88 M
- Empty Weight: 109000 lbs / 49433 Kg
- Gross Weight: 297000 lbs / 134693 Kg
- No. of Engines: 4
- Powerplant: Pratt & Whitney J57-P-59W
- Thrust (each): 13750 lbs / 6235 Kg
- Range: 4000 miles / 6441 Km
- Cruise Speed: 552 mph / 888 Km/H / 480 Kt
- Max Speed: 600 Mph / 966 Km/H / 522.16 Kt
- Ceiling: 40000 Ft / 12191 M