Sedalia AFB

KC-97 Stratotanker

The Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker was a United States strategic tanker aircraft. For many years, it was the backbone of the United States Air Force's tanker fleet until replaced by the KC-135.

Design and development

The KC-97 Stratotanker was an aerial refueling tanker variant of the C-97 Stratofreighter, greatly modified with all the necessary tanks, plumbing, and "flying boom." The cavernous upper deck was capable of accommodating oversize cargo accessed through a very large left-side door, or transferrable jet fuel was contained in tanks on the lower deck. Both decks were heated and pressurized for high altitude operations.

Operational history

The USAF began operating the KC-97 in 1950. It purchased a total of 816 KC-97s from Boeing, as opposed to only 74 of the C-97 cargo version. The KC-97 used piston engines, fueled by aviation gasoline, but it carried jet fuel for its refueling mission. It therefore used independent systems for both types of fuel.

These tankers were vitally important to the world-wide B-47 strategic operations. An example is the support of Arctic reconnaissance flights from Thule Air Base. The struggle to start and operate this complex airplane at temperatures of -40o F was a triumph. Navigation in the Arctic conditions required great skill.

While it was an effective tanker, the KC-97's slow speed and low operational altitude complicated refueling operations with jet aircraft. B-52s typically lowered their flaps and rear landing gear to slow the aircraft enough to refuel from the KC-97. In addition, a typical B-52 refueling engagement profile would involve a descent that allowed the aircraft pair to maintain a higher airspeed (220-240 knots). In the early 1960s, TAC added J-47 jet pods from retired KB-50 tankers to produce the KC-97L. The jet pods increased performance and made the KC-97 more compatible with jet aircraft.

In 1956, SAC began phasing out the KC-97 in favor of the KC-135. KC-97s continued operating with TAC, the Air Force Reserves, and Air National Guard units. They were finally retired completely in 1978, when the Texas and Utah Air National Guards exchanged their KC-97Ls for C-130s and KC-135s, respectively.


Three C-97As were converted into aerial refueling tankers with rear loading door removed and a flight refulling boom added. After the design was proven, they were converted back into the standard C-97A configuration.KC-97E
Production aircraft were factory-built as aerial refueling tankers with rear loading doors permanently closed, 60 builtKC-97F
As KC-97Es but with 3800hp R-4360-59B engines and minor changes, 159 builtKC-97G
Production aircraft were factory-built as dual-role aerial refueling tankers/cargo transportation aircraft. KC-97G models carried underwing fuel tanks. Many models were converted into full transport (i.e. aeromedical) or rescue roles, 592 built, 135 later had refuelling equipment removed and designated C-97G.GKC-97G
Five KC-97Gs were used as ground instruction airframes.JKC-97G
One aircraft was modified to test the underwing J47 jet engines, and was later designated KC-97L. KC-97H
One KC-97F was experimentally converted into a hose-and-drogue refueling aircraft.KC-97L
81 KC-97Gs were modified with a pair of J47 turbojet engines on underwing pylons.


The following USAF wing organizations flew the various KC-97 models at some time during their existence:

Active Duty

Air National Guard


A number of KC-97s survive, at least two of which are airworthy: the Angel of Deliverance operated by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, and N1365N known as Tanker 97 and operated until recently as an aerial firefighting airtanker by Hawkins & Powers.

Static displays include the KC-97L "Zeppelinheim" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, the Air Mobility Command MuseumDover AFB, Delaware, March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, the Museum of Aviation at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in Central Point, Oregon, Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, Grissom Air Museum in Peru, Indiana, Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX, and at Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California.

Photo Gallery

Specifications (KC-97L)

See also


External links

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