Home » The KC-135 Stratotanker pilot who went into a 20-degree dive to refuel a flamed-out F-105 Thunderchief

The KC-135 Stratotanker pilot who went into a 20-degree dive to refuel a flamed-out F-105 Thunderchief

by Till Daisd
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The KC-135 Stratotanker

The Boeing Company’s model 367-80 served as the basic design for both the KC-135A Stratotanker and the commercial 707 passenger aircraft. The Air Force acquired the first 29 aircraft of its 732-plane fleet in 1954. The first Stratotanker went into production and was delivered to Castle Air Force Base in California in June 1957. The first aircraft took to the air in August 1956. The Air Force received the final KC-135 delivery in 1965.

The KC-135 was particularly important during the Vietnam War, where the Stratotanker not only allowed heavy fighter-bombers to reach North Vietnamese targets and return but also towed them back to their bases when they were badly damaged by enemy action.

KC-135 Stratotanker into dive to refuel an F-105 Thunderchief

Even so, one Stratotanker went into a dive to save two F-105s running short on fuel. According to an interesting article published in Air & Space Forces Magazine by Walter J. Boyne, in May 1967, Maj. Alvin L. Lewis’s KC-135 was piloted through intense thunderstorms in order to locate two severely low-fuel F-105s.

After having found the F-105s in a clear area, Lewis put his tanker into a 20-degree dive to position himself in front of the first fighter, which had already flamed out. The Thud was gliding earthward, its pilot preparing to eject, when the diving Stratotanker passed in front to a refueling position.

F-105s safely RTB

All checklists and preliminaries were forgotten as the F-105 hooked up and took on enough fuel to air-start the engine. The tanker transferred a little fuel and then increased its dive angle to 30 degrees to get enough air through the intake of the fighter to spool it up to starting RPM. Lewis then refueled the second F-105, which was about to flame out. Both 105s made it home.

Photo by U.S. Air Force

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