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The Boeing KC-135 aerial refuelling tanker was developed from the Boeing 717, a shorter and narrower aircraft based on the Boeing 707 airliner. First entering service in 1957, eventually 803 KC-135s were produced between 1955 and 1965. In addition to the KC-135, the basic C-135 has also been developed into a number of specialist roles including the RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic reconnaissance aircraft which is operated by both the USAF and the RAF. The remaining KC-135s have been upgraded with CFM56 engine giving the type 60% greater range and is 25% more fuel efficient.
The French Air and Space Force operate the KC-135 as the C-135FR. Originally ordering 12 aircraft, the C-135F was a custom specification that was intended to be used both as a tanker and cargo transport but also as a troop transport too. Originally the aircraft was only capable of refuelling one aircraft at a time using the boom which is modified to deploy a drogue. Between 1985 to 1988 the fleet were upgraded to C-135FR standard using CFM F108 engines and the installation of wing pods allowing the aircraft to fuel three aircraft at once. These were supplemented by three ex-USAF KC-135A upgraded to KC-135RG standard in 1996. The C-135FR has been gradually retired since 2021 as it's replacement, the Airbus A330MRTT known as the Phénix has entered French service.
The French Air and Space Force will be sending one of their C-135FR's to RIAT this year as part of our SKYTANKER theme to perform a number of flypasts. Due to operational commitments, this will be exclusive to Friday's show.
Photo Credit: Michael Hind