Primary Role: Strategic Airlift/Staff Transport
Derived from Boeing’s prototype 707 jet airliner in the early 1950s, the versatile C-135 has been a visible fixture of the U.S. Air Force since the first one was acquired in August 1956. Although most of the 820 units were developed as KC-135A Stratotankers for the air refueling mission, they have also performed numerous transport and special-duty functions. Forty-five base-model aircraft were built as C-135A or C-135B transports, with tanking equipment excluded.
Fifteen C-135As, powered by J57 turbojets, were built. In later years, almost all were upgraded with TF33 turbofan engines and wide-span tailplanes then redesignated C-135E. Thirty C-135Bs were built with TF33 turbofans and wide-span tailplanes from the outset, and a small number remain in service in their original form. 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 (MAC).
C-135C “Speckled Trout”
Although most of the remaining C-135 aircraft are used as transports for senior military leaders and other high-ranking dignitaries, the C-135C communications aircraft serves as an aerial testbed for emerging technologies. Developmental tests using the “Speckled Trout” 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 new radome to test the camera’s generation of video images of the forward scene in low-visibility conditions. The aircraft, which in the VIP transport role seats 14 passengers, gives the Joint Forces Air Component commander a limited ability to plan and control the simulated battle while in the air en route to the crisis area.