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KC-97 Stratofreighter
KC-97L in Ohio Air National Guard markings
Role Aerial refueling tanker
Manufacturer Boeing
Introduction July 14, 1951[1][2]
Retired June 1978[3]
Primary users United States Air Force
Spanish Air Force
Produced 1951–1956[4][5]
Number built 811
Developed from Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter

The Boeing KC-97 Stratofreighter was a aerial refueling tanker aircraft based on the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter. It was succeeded by the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker.

Design and development

The KC-97 Stratofreighter was an aerial refueling tanker variant of the C-97 Stratofreighter (which was itself based on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress), 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 right-side door. In addition, transferrable jet fuel was contained in tanks on the lower deck (G-L models). Both decks were heated and pressurized for high altitude operations.

Note: Occasionally the KC-97 has been quoted as "Stratotanker". However, all reputable sources refer to the KC-97 as Stratofreighter, not -tanker. This includes both Boeing and the USAF themselves.[6][7]

Operational history

Two USAF A-7 Corsair IIs refueling from a KC-97.

The USAF began operating the KC-97 in 1950. It purchased a total of 811 KC-97s from Boeing,[5][8][9] as opposed to only 74 of the C-97 cargo version.[10][11][12] The KC-97 used piston engines, fueled by aviation gasoline, but it carried jet fuel for its refueling mission. It therefore used independent (transfer valves) systems for both types of fuel, and was able to transfer its aviation gas 145 to off-load to the receiver in an emergency (known as a "SAVE").

These tankers were vitally important to the world-wide Boeing B-47 Stratojet strategic operations. An example was the support of Arctic reconnaissance flights from Thule Air Base.

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, the Tactical Air Command added General Electric J47 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 Tactical Air Command, the Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard. The KC-97 was finally retired completely in 1978, when the Texas and Utah Air National Guards exchanged their KC-97Ls for C-130s and KC-135s, respectively.



Source: AIRTime[13]
Three C-97As were converted into aerial refueling tankers with rear loading door removed and a flight refueling boom added. After the design was proven, they were converted back into the standard C-97A.
aerial refueling tankers with rear loading doors permanently closed, 60 built. Some were later converted into transports as the C-97E.
3800hp R-4360-59B engines and minor changes, 159 built. Some were later converted into transport as the C-97F.
Dual-role aerial refueling tankers/cargo transportation aircraft. KC-97G models carried underwing fuel tanks. 592 built.
ELINT conversion of three KC-97Gs. 53-106 was operated by the CIA for covert ELINT operations in the West Berlin Air Corridor.
135 KC-97Gs converted to transports.
Five KC-97Gs were used as ground instruction airframes.
One aircraft was modified to test the underwing General Electric J47-GE-23 jet engines, and was later designated KC-97L.
KC-97Gs converted for search and rescue operations, 22 converted.
One KC-97F was experimentally converted into a hose-and-drogue refueling aircraft.
two KC-97G conversion with four 4250 kW Pratt & Whitney YT34-P-5 turboprops, dropped in favour of the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker.
27 KC-97Gs converted to troop transports.[14]
81 KC-97Gs modified with two J47 turbojet engines on underwing pylons.


Spanish Boeing KC-97L Stratofreighter at Albacete
KC-97L Zeppelinheim


United States

The following USAF wing organizations flew the various KC-97 models at some time during their existence:[15]

Active duty

Air National Guard

Accidents and incidents involving the KC-97

  • 9 May 1957 – KC-97F 51-0258 en route from Sidi Slimane Air Base, Morocco, to Lajes AB, Azores, ditches in the Atlantic 550 km (343.8 mls) SE of the Azores Islands following a double engine failure, no fatalities amongst the seven crew. The airplane floated for ten days and was sunk by USS Wisconsin.[16]
  • 18 July 1957 – The 380th Bomb Wing suffers its first peacetime major accident when KC-97G 52-2737 from the 380th Air Refueling Squadron with a crew of eight explodes and crashes into Lake Champlain at 2128 hrs. when two of the four engines fail three minutes after take-off from Plattsburgh AFB, New York.[17] Three survivors.[18]
  • 29 October 1957 – KC-97G 52-2711 of the 509th Bomb Wing,[19] out of Walker AFB, New Mexico, crashes 35 miles north of Flagstaff, Arizona, while on nine-hour low-level survey flight to determine minimum altitude restrictions for B-47 training routes. Aircraft was seen over Gray Mountain, Arizona, at altitude of 60 feet shortly after 0830 hrs., and then heard striking a cloud-shrouded cliff face, killing 16 crew and strewing wreckage for 200 yards along mountainside.[20][21]
  • 14 December 1959 – KC-97G 53-0231 of the 384th Air Refueling Squadron, out of Westover AFB, Massachusetts, collides with a B-52 during a refueling mission at an altitude of ~15,000 feet. The aircraft loses the whole left horizontal stabilizer and elevator, the rudder, and the upper quarter of the vertical stabilizer. Crew makes a no-flap, electrical power off landing at night at Dow AFB, Maine, seven crew okay. "Spokesmen at Dow Air Force, Bangor, said the B52 [sic] apparently 'crowded too close' and rammed a fuel boom into the tail of a four-engined KC95 [sic] tanker plane."[22] Aircraft stricken as beyond economical repair. Two crew on the B-52 eject, parachute safely, and are recovered by helicopters in a snow-covered wilderness area. The bomber and remaining eight crew members continue to Westover AFB, where a safe landing is made.[23]
  • 15 April 1960 – Twenty-four airmen escape with their lives when KC-97G 52-0919[18] of the 307th Air Refueling Squadron, 307th Bomb Wing, crashes and burns on take-off from Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, when the undercarriage collapses. The only casualties are two airmen who suffer leg fractures and five others who suffer minor cuts and burns.[24][25]
  • 27 June 1960 – A KC-97G 52-2728 of the 380th Air Refueling Squadron, Plattsburgh AFB, New York, suffers failure of lubrication on an engine impeller shaft, during an evening four-hour training mission to refuel a Boeing B-47 Stratojet. During rendezvous at 15,500 feet, bomber crew sees the tanker's number one (port outer) powerplant burst into flames. A burning fuel leak threatens the wing integrity. As the bomber moves away from the burning tanker, the crew tries unsuccessfully to put out the blaze. The plane goes into a spin as the wing fails outboard of the engine and crashes on Jonathan Smith Mountain, a hill east of Puzzle Mountain in Newry, Maine. The flash of the fire is seen from as far away as Lewiston and Bridgton, and several people witness the crash, including hundreds of moviegoers at the Rumford Point Drive-In. All five crew are killed – two are found wearing unused parachutes. Wreckage covers five acres and was still there in 2010.[26][27][28]
  • 17 September 1971 – KC-97G 4X-FPR/033 of the Israeli Air Force, is shot down by Egyptian missiles over Suez, Egypt, seven of eight-man crew on board killed.[29]


A number of KC-97s survive, at least two of which are potentially airworthy: 52-2718 / N117GA Angel of Deliverance operated by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation.,[30] and N1365N known as Tanker 97 and operated until recently as an aerial firefighting airtanker by Hawkins & Powers.

Static displays include:

In popular culture

The KC-97 Stratofreighter is shown in the 1955 film Strategic Air Command, refueling a B-47 in flight, and in the 1957 film Bombers B-52, refueling B-52s.

Specifications (KC-97L)

Data from USAF Museum[45] and FAS.[46]

General characteristics

  • Crew: six (aircraft commander, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, radio operator, boom operator)
  • Capacity: 9,000 gal (34,000 L) of jet fuel
  • Length: 117 ft 5 in (m)
  • Wingspan: 141 ft 2 in (m)
  • Height: 38 ft 4 in (m)
  • Wing area: ft² (m²)
  • Empty weight: 82,500 lb (kg)
  • Loaded weight: 153,000 lb (kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 175,000 lb (kg)
  • Powerplant:
    • 2 × General Electric J47-GE-23 turbojets, 5,790 lbf (kN) each
    • 4 × Pratt & Whitney R-4360-59 radial engines, 3,500 hp (kW) each


  • Maximum speed: 400 mph (644 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 230 mph (370 km/h)
  • Range: 2,300 mi (3700 km)
  • Service ceiling: 30,000 ft (m)
  • Rate of climb: ft/min (m/s)
  • Wing loading: lb/ft² (kg/m²)
  • Power/mass (prop): hp/lb (kW/kg)

See also



  1. Bach, p. 13
  2. Swanborough / Bowers 1989, p. 128.
  3. Bach, p. 31
  4. Bach, p. 14
  5. 5.0 5.1 Swanborough / Bowers 1989, p. 127-129.
  6. Boeing History homepage
  7. National Museum of the US Air Force, factsheet Boeing KC-97L Stratofreighter
  8. Bach, p. 12
  9. Bowers 1989, p. 358-359.
  10. Bach, p. 4-7
  11. Bowers 1989, p. 353-358.
  12. Swanborough / Bowers 1989, p. 125-126.
  13. for KC-97: AIRTime Publishing. (2006). International Air Power Review, Vol 20. ISBN 1-880588-91-9
  14. Bowers 1989, p. 364.
  15. Rarenstein, Charles. (1984). Air Force Combat Wings: Lineage and Honors Histories 1947-1977. ISBN 0-912799-12-9
  17. Plattsburgh AFB, NY - SAC - 380th Bomb Wing - B-47, B-52, FB111A Retrieved on 2011-12-1.
  18. 18.0 18.1
  19. 1952 USAF Serial Numbers, Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  20. Smithsonian Institution, "All That Remains", Air & Space Magazine, Washington, D.C., November 2002. Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  21. KC-97G, #52-2711 crashed 29 Oct 1957, 35 miles north of Flagstaff., Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  22. Associated Press, "Two Chutists Found Safe", Lincoln Evening Journal and Nebraska State Journal, Tuesday 15 December 1959, page 3.
  23. Accident: 14 Dec 1959 KC-97G Stratofreighter, Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  26. REMEMBERING THE CREW OF KC-97G 52-2728, by Peter Noddin, Dirago Flyer, October 2001
  27. Langeveld, M.Dirk, Staff Writer, "The ultimate sacrifice; wreck sites a reminder of military plane disasters", Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine, 12 September 2010. Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  28. Oxford Hills The ultimate sacrifice; wreck sites a reminder of military plane disasters, Retrieved on 2011-12-1
  30. Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation
  31. [1]
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 [2]
  33. [3]
  34. [4]
  35. [5]
  36. [6]
  37. [7]
  38. [8]
  39. 39.0 39.1 39.2 39.3 39.4 39.5 [9]
  40. [10]
  41. [11]
  42. .[12]
  43. [13]
  44. [14]
  45. "Boeing KC-97L". USAF Museum. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 
  46. "KC-97 Stratotanker". Federation of American Scientists WMD Resources. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 


  • Bach, Martin: Boeing 367 Stratofreighter, Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Aero Spacelines Guppies. NARA Verlag, Allershausen 1996, ISBN 3-925671-18-8.
  • Bowers, Peter M.: Boeing Aircraft since 1916. Putnam Aeronautical Books, London 1989, ISBN 0-85177-804-6.
  • Swanborough, Gordon and Bowers, Peter M.: United States Military Aircraft since 1909. Putnam Aeronautical Books, London 1989, ISBN 0-85177-816-X.

External links

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