The largest fleet of air refueling tankers in the Air Force Reserve will call Wright-Patterson home base for several weeks.
The first of the 1960s-era KC-135 Stratotanker jets with the 434th Air Refueling Wing landed Tuesday from their Indiana home at Grissom Air Reserve Base, which is undergoing renovations.
The 16 aerial tankers are flown around the world. Most of the jets and about 200 personnel will be at Wright-Patterson through mid-July, joining nine-C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets with the Air Force Reserve 445th Airlift Wing on the tarmac.
A $3.2 million project at Grissom will add expansion joints in the 12,500-foot-long runway to keep it flat because of temperature swings.
The KC-135, based on the original Boeing 707 commercial airliner, has less automation than newer, fly-by-wire aircraft, which translates into a steeper learning curve, said said Lt. Col. Brian D. Hollis, a pilot and the 72nd Air Refueling Squadron director of operations.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It makes it a lot more interactive to fly.”
The tankers won’t be static at Wright-Patterson, and will be used on 10 to 20 missions a week, Hollis said.
The jets have a 30-foot-long boom, which can extend another 30 feet to refuel planes in mid-air. Pilots pulling up for a fillup are guided by lights underneath the KC-135 while an operator inside the tanker looks out a window and steers the boom to a thirsty aircraft. The tanker, with a typical 4,000-mile range, can carry about 30,000 gallons on a single flight.
“If you’re loaded deep with fuel, you can fly until it’s not fun anymore,” Hollis said.
While the jets are old, Hollis gave a plane-side tour of one built in 1960, the four-engine KC-135R models that the unit flies have replaced sheet metal, wiring, electronics and engines. The same reservists maintain the tankers for years with the fervor of a classic car collector, officials said.
“It is their aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Mark R. W. Orders-Woempner, a unit spokesman.
“They (the planes) look like your Dad’s ‘65 Mustang,” Hollis said.
The Air Force has ordered 179 Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial tankers to replace the aging KC-135 fleet, but Hollis noted the older planes were scheduled to fly through 2045. The Air Force has 414 of the jets mixed within active-duty, reserve and Air National Guard units.
For the Indiana-based unit, Tuesday marked a homecoming of sorts. The refuelers temporarily relocated to Wright-Patterson a decade ago for a runway project.
Last summer, the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcon jets thundered out of Wright-Patt while crews reconstructed the unit’s home runway at Toledo Express Airport.