Taking to the skies in 1950, the Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker served the United States as a strategic tanker aircraft. Large aircrafts require large drinks of fuel and the KC-97 Stratotanker was the in-flight bartender.
If the KC-97 looks familiar, it may be due to the fact that it was a variant of the C-97 Stratofreighter but redesigned as an aerial refueling tanker. Boeing overhauled the C-97 and transformed it into the KC-97 by adding the necessary fuel storage tanks, plumbing, boom arm required to make it a strategic tanker. Split into two decks, the KC-97’s upper deck was designed to carry oversized cargo while the lower deck contained tanks which held the transferrable jet fuel.
The United States Air Force would end up purchasing 816 KC-97’s from Boeing and they would prove to be a critical asset. Having the ability to carry jet fuel would make the KC-97 a key component to our world-wide B-47 Stratojet strategic operations. It should be noted however that since the KC-97 used piston engines, it was often a hassle for it to refuel jets. Due to its’ slow speed, jet aircraft would have to slow down to sync up with the KC-97. B-52’s would usually need to lower their flaps and rear landing gear in order to slow down enough. Talk about hitting the brakes! Tactical Air Command added jet pods to the KC-97 in the early 1960’s in an attempt to make it easier when refueling jets.
Sadly, the KC-97 slowly started to get removed from service in 1956, finding itself replaced with the KC-135. Jet engines were becoming the standard so it was only natural that the piston engine aircraft wouldn’t keep up. This behemoth of a tanker was fully retired in 1978 when the last operational KC-97’s were swapped out for C-130’s.
To this day there are a number of KC-97’s that are still in great shape and serving as display pieces in museums across the country. The KC-97 may not refuel jets midair anymore but at MotoArt, it shall always refuel our passion for aviation.