News Columns & Blogs

KC-135 crews share insight of aging fleet problems; have advice for new tankers

tiffanyKC-135 crew members have colorful stories and a lot of insight in what it takes to fly 50-year-old tankers on missions to refuel fighter jets and other planes. They shared some of them during a recent interview at McConnell Air Force Base.

They also had a few items on their wish list of what they’d like to see in a replacement fleet.

Capt. Tiffany Taylor, a KC-135 pilot, showed off the teensy dark, dank bathroom inside a tanker on the ramp. They definitely weren’t designed for ladies. Her wish for the new fleet of refuelers? “A better bathroom.” Oh, and a microwave. They’re in the air for eight hours at a time.

“Tell them we need air conditioning,” said another crew member. During a preflight in the desert, it’s 130 degrees in the cockpit. Sometimes they run the heater — which makes it hotter — long enough to dry off. (It’s cooler once airborne)

The crew opened a log on one tanker where problems are entered. The tankers are showing their age, and the lists are growing longer.

Crews adapt to problems.

If a refueler takes on an extra 100,000 pounds of fuel, but a problem keeps it from offloading the fuel to another aircraft, the plane often becomes too heavy to land.

That means orbiting for hours to burn off fuel or dumping it into the atmosphere. And if they’re in the Middle East where demand is high, it’s important to get the plane back on the ground, repaired and put back into service.

“You’d be amazed at how many thousands of pounds of fuel get dumped in a month,” Taylor said.

In fact, said she can’t count on her fingers and toes the times she’s done it herself.

“I’m a fuel-dumping queen,” Taylor said with a laugh.