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Tomorrow Today
KC 135
The KC 135 is extending its useful service life

CNN's Ann Kellan looks at the latest equipment for an aging aircraft
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Larry Reed of Wright Patterson AFB talks about the refueling drogue
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Air Force refuelers getting makeover to extend life

June 11, 1999
Web posted at: 9:32 a.m. EDT (1332 GMT)

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

WRIGHT PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (CNN) -- The KC 135, an old 1950s warhorse, is learning a new trick, unfurling hoses it never had before to fuel U.S. Navy and NATO fighter jets in midair.

These Air Force "flying gas stations" are undergoing a multi-million dollar makeover that should keep them in service well into the 21st century.

Typically, this flying fuel station lowers a center boom to fill up U.S. Air Force jets, including fighters and bombers.

Instead of being put out to pasture, 45 of the KC 135s are getting outfitted with a pair of pods, one on each wing.

U.S. Air Force jets use a boom to refuel   

In each pod, there's a hose and basket called a drogue. Along with the center boom, the KC 135 can refuel two different types of planes at the same time.

The Navy is retiring its tanker fleet, so the 135s will be picking up much of the Navy's refueling mission as well, says Col. Ron Albers of the 121st Air Refueling Group.

The KC 135 can carry 150,000 pounds of fuel, enough to gas up one bomber or 12-15 fighter jets.

The boom operators lie on their stomachs in the belly of the plane. It's their job to literally lower the boom and hit the receptacles of the receiving plane to fill it up with fuel.

The addition of pods allows a tanker to refuel other types of jets   

If it's a pod they're operating, their job is easier -- they just release the hoses, and it's the receiving plane's job to do most of the work.

"They will fly up and stick their probe right into the basket and that is how they refuel," Albers says.

It will cost $200 million to modify the KC 135s over the next 10 years. They should keep these warhorses going through 2035.

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Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
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