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KC-135: Silent partner, extending global reach in Europe and Africa

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Derek Peifer, 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, makes contact with the B-52 Stratofortress, 2nd Bomb Wing Barksdale, La., over Romania, March 18, 2019. During air refueling, the boom operator communicates directly with the refueling aircraft to ensure safety and efficiency. The KC-135 mission supported the B-52 deployed to Europe as part of the Bomber Task Force rotation.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Cooper)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Derek Peifer, 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, makes contact with the B-52 Stratofortress, 2nd Bomb Wing Barksdale, La., over Romania, March 18, 2019. During air refueling, the boom operator communicates directly with the refueling aircraft to ensure safety and efficiency. The KC-135 mission supported the B-52 deployed to Europe as part of the Bomber Task Force rotation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to 494th Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, prepares to receive fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing over Scotland, March 29, 2018. The Strike Eagle was one of eight F-15Es to receive fuel while on a training sortie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to 494th Fighter Squadron, RAF Lakenheath, prepares to receive fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 100th Air Refueling Wing over Scotland, March 29, 2018. The Strike Eagle was one of eight F-15Es to receive fuel while on a training sortie. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Thunderbird pilot prepares to refuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing July 10, 2017, over the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The Thunderbirds rehearsed their routines in preparation for the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo airshow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Thunderbird pilot prepares to refuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing July 10, 2017, over the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The Thunderbirds rehearsed their routines in preparation for the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo airshow. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, takes off for night refueling in support of an exercise at RAF Mildenhall, England, Feb. 27, 2018. This Stratotanker was one of seven aircraft taking off in support of both the exercise and real-world missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

A U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, takes off for night refueling in support of an exercise at RAF Mildenhall, England, Feb. 27, 2018. This Stratotanker was one of seven aircraft taking off in support of both the exercise and real-world missions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Benjamin Cooper)

RAF MILDENHALL, England --

One of the many strengths of the U.S. Air Force is the ability to project airpower globally. That can happen because the Air Force has an efficient system for in-flight refueling.

The KC-135 Stratotanker may not be the most well known aircraft in the Air Force, but it could be seen as one of the most important in the fleet.

At RAF Mildenhall, the KC-135 Stratotanker is as important today as it was the day of its first flight, if not more so.

The Statotankers ensure the aircraft they serve have the vital fuel they need. Without having to worry about fuel constraints, aircraft are free to focus on the mission. The KC-135 is the silent partner in many Air Force missions.

The 100th ARW provides unsurpassed air refueling throughout Europe and Africa,” said Col. Christopher Amrhein, 100th Air Refueling Wing commander. “The Bloody Hundredth accomplishes this by using our KC-135s and the Airmen that generate, support, and operate them to create an enduring air power presence.  This enduring presence, either by time or distance, allows the Expeditionary Air Force to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.”

Introduced in the 1950s, the Stratotanker became the premier air refueler in the U.S. Air Force, a standard that continues to this day. The KC-135 is one of the oldest aircraft still in active service.

“The aircraft is more than 60 years old and continues to do the job day in and day out because our maintainers do a tremendous job to keep it that way,” said Lt. Col. Mark Skalko, 100th Operations Group deputy commander. “Our NATO and coalition partners, as well as our own forces, realize how important our tankers are to the mission. We provide air refueling for the first line of defense and we are the sole refueling unit for U.S. Air Forces Europe-Air Forces Africa.”

The Stratotanker helps other aircraft, restricted to flying in one area, extend their reach without considerable stop-and-go refueling. The KC-135 allows aircraft to fly halfway around the world to perform a mission, complete it, and return home without landing in-between to refuel.

Another aspect of the KC-135 that might not be well known is how versatile the aircraft is.

“The Stratotanker’s number one priority is refueling, but it’s capable of carrying cargo,” Skalko said. “However, in addition to its extraordinary fuel storage, the aircraft can carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo and can be outfitted to perform aeromedical evacuations.”

The Bloody Hundredth is the only permanent U.S. Air Refueling Wing in Europe and is here to fuel operations across Europe and Africa.