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Voices From an Old Warrior, Why KC-135 Safety Matters – A Book Review

Boeing built eight hundred and twenty C-135 airframes including all variants, delivered to the U.S.A.F between 1957 and 1965. Voices From an Old Warrior, Why KC-135 Safety Matters by Christopher J. B. Hoctor (Copyright 2013 by Galleon’s Lap – 1st Edition Electronic version only, 2nd Edition is the 1st printed copy, Copyright 2014), is a one-hundred-forty-four-plus-page work which delves into the history of the C-135 and its variants. What makes this book stand out is that it is not as much about airframes and specific performance figures (although much data and history is included in this book too), but the rather detailed safety history of the type. Seventy-seven C-135 airframes, mostly KC-135 Stratotankers, have been destroyed in accidents. Not all have been fatal, but over six hundred aircrew and passengers have perished in accidents associated with the C-135 aircraft types since the type was first operational by the U.S.A.F. in 1957.

Mr. Hoctor’s experience with the KC-135 is substantial… he was a boom operator and boom operator instructor on KC-135As for much of his twenty year Active Duty career. He held various planning staff and operational positions too, on the KC-135 and KC-10.

File photo: Boeing NKC-135R 61-0320

The main body of the book – some 79 pages arranged by date of incident – details the losses of aircraft, how many and who the victims were – and the cause of the accident. There are reproduced newspaper clippings, complete with photos from various local news journals. The styles of writing and reporting from half a century ago struck me with their straightforwardness and the matter-of-fact military attitude towards military accidents, which were more common in the early part of the KC-135’s operational use. Some interesting reading for me included the details of the type’s first major accident, a world record attempt gone wrong from Westover AFB in 1958, the year before I was born. I grew up nearby, with a forty minute ride from the base. Some of the accident topics that I found include:

File photo: KC-135A, 509th Bomb Wing, Pease AFB

The original KC-135A version had water-injected jet engines whose thrust was augmented when demineralized water was introduced to the combustion process. The water was moved from tanks to engines by a pair of pumps – one for the engines on the left wing, and one for the right side. Unfortunately, in one accident, a pump failed and both engines on one wing stopped producing full takeoff thrust, causing an asymmetric situation that led to a crash. The author pointed out that because of the circumstances of this accident, a fleet-wide plumbing change that paired pumps with the inboard two engines and outboard two solved the extreme asymmetric situation.

Fuel pumps submerged in fuel tanks possibly led to six explosions, and these six are covered in the main body of the book as they fell in chronological order. In the final chapters, an in-depth look at similar accidents – and thus the six fuel pumps as a whole, are discussed again, and the result was that a certain amount of fuel is now mandated to be kept in the tank as a cooling measure; some pumps had overheated in dry tanks.

Then there were multiple accidents during refueling missions between nuclear-armed bombers and tankers. The series of crashes ultimately put an end to these “Chrome Dome” and other – named missions before a full scale nuclear explosion took place. There are good discussions about these dangerous missions.

File photo: Boom deployed, a KC-135R operated by the Air Education and Training Command (AETC)

I always enjoy learning more aviation history, and this book has a large amount of it… from the aircraft’s design to detailed operational mishaps. Some of the bases mentioned are long closed down, and the Strategic Air Command is no more (at one point SAC controlled most of the KC-135 refueling fleet), so there is ample mention of out-of-business air wings, other units and closed bases. Some of the C-135 losses were not just tankers either; they performed aerial command post, reconnaissance, and plain old transport duties. Two non-C-135 accidents are included in this discussion too; both have parallels with KC-135 accidents.

While the main thrust of this book is the history of C-135 safety and accident investigation, there are other takeaways too. You can find history about the manufacturing of the C-135 family, human factors of military crew members which lived with the unique pressures of SAC and Air Mobility Command (AMC) air crews, military base and organizational history, and even some of the early B-707 marketing material that Boeing published. Full of information. I highly recommend this book for military aviation enthusiasts, students of aviation safety, and aviation historians who might especially like the copied material from accident reports, newspaper clippings, and Boeing marketing material.

File photos of C-135 variants are not part of the book or representative of any accident – Editor

Fairbanks, Alaska 2004 trip

Former Texas Air National Guard Convair C-131B 

It has been almost sixteen full years years since I made a magical trip  from New Hampshire to Fairbanks, Alaska. My main reason was to report on the Indian Air Force’s first deployment to Alaska, to participate in the 2004 Cooperative Cope Thunder exercise. Of course, there was ample time in my trip’s itinerary to go plane spotting at a new airport, and Fairbanks International Airport didn’t disappoint.

Curtiss C-46F in the foreground was once operated by the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force

Back then, there were many old propliners and former military transports still flying in interior Alaska. On the airport, there were dozens of older Convairs, Douglass, Boeings and even a Grumman C-1A COD! Some were flyable, others were picked of parts, still others sat engineless, but still seemingly intact. Most of the older transports were former military versions, with cargo carrying capabilities being a key to an aircraft’s continued use in the 49th state.

A Douglas DC-6B, not a former military C-118, wearing a well-known color scheme 

Here’s a look at what I saw around the airport, including the Everts Air Cargo/Air Fuel and Brooks Fuel operations, from outside the fence. 

Built in 1957, this Grumman C-1A was registered to Fuel Services LLC… possibly a tanker?

Rare ATL-98 Carvair, operated by Brooks Fuel. It was destroyed in a non-fatal crash three years later.

A parted-out C-54D

One of my favorites of the trip, a Curtiss C-46F 

This C-54D is either a parts donor, or an airframe being readied to take to the skies again

This former Navy C-54D still has some of its military markings peeking through layers of paint

Northern Air Cargo C-118A freighter tucked away at Fairbanks.

Bustling Everts hangar with a C-118 and C-46 on the ramp

Taken through a chain link fence, this C-118A has two large cargo doors, the rear one has a passenger door built in it

After military service, this Fairchild C-119G had an auxiliary jet engine added on its roof

A former Navy C-131F sits with a hastily applied registration for its trip from MASDC to Fairbanks. One writer states that the Convair’s engines were reused for the Everts fleet of DC-6/C-118s.

Another former Navy C-131F a long way from it’s previous home!

An odd duck… former C-47B Dakota delivered to the US Army in 1945, and after British Commonwealth service it was privatized and was used for electromagnetic surveying for minerals. Later on in life it was converted by Basler Aviation to a BT-67 turboprop. Random Warbirds #3


Here is our third Random Warbird photo album, how many of these aircraft have you seen, or better yet, have photos of?


N163FS Bell P-63C-5 King Cobra C/N 42-69021 owned by the Legacy Flight Museum at Ypsilanti MI.  


During the static display event at NAS North Island California in 2011, these Centennial of Naval Aviation (CONA) specially-colored jets wore World War II colors… including the S-3 Viking (tail to the left), EA-6B Prowler and F-18G Growler.

Fouga CM-170 Magister at an Abbotsford B.C. air show.

Hawker Hunter at a RIAT event at RAF Fairford.

NX79123 Lockheed P-38L Lightning C/N 422-8235 owned by Fagen Fighters at Ypsilanti MI.

N500EJ Douglas C-54E-DC S/N 27370 owned by the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation at Ypsilanti MI.

N959RT Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk. IXC C/N 17-804 owned by Texas Fighters and Legends at Oshkosh WI.

NX1345B Republic P-47D Thunderbolt C/N 44-90447 Jacky’s Revenge at Ypsilanti MI.

Douglas A-4B Skyhawk, North American F-86 Sabres, Mielec LIM-6bis at Oshkosh WI.

N251PW North American P-51D Mustang S/N 44-72086 Baby Duck at Oshkosh WI.

North American OV-10D Bronco at NAS North Island during the 2011 CONA celebration.

English Electric Canberra during a RIAT arrival day at RAF Fairford, this jet has been modified for use as a target tug.

North American F-86 Sabre Jet at NAS Point Mugu in the late 1980s/early 1990s, converted into a target QF-86F.

Douglas TA-3B Skywarrior staff transport/trainer in use by VAQ-33. The jet was appearing for the last time at a Westover AFB air show before the type was retired, shortly after the first Gulf War.

A pair of 102nd Fighter Wing F-106s at the Otis ANGB.

Hawker Hurricane IIB operated by the Canadian Warbird Heritage before being destroyed by a hangar fire.

All-North American Warbird line-up at Abbottsford B.C… two P-51 Mustangss and 2 Harvards.

NX1204 North American P-51C-1ONT Mustang serial# 42-103831 owned by Kermit Weeks at Polk City FL.

N4297J Martin B-26 Marauder C/N 1329 owned by Kermit Weeks at Polk City FL.

 N494TW Lockheed C-121A Constellation C/N 2601 MATS colors at Oshkosh WI.

Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II 80-0263 Serial A10-0613 172ND FS Battle Creek MI at Milwaukee WI.

N711MG Mikoyan Gurevich MIG-21UM C/N 5695175 owned by Gulf Flight INC. at Milwaukee WI.  

N3451D North American F-51D-30NA C/N 44-75007N “Paul 1” owned by the Experimental Aircraft Association at Oshkosh WI.


English Electric Canberra PR.9 during the twilight years of the photo-Canberra. 


Peninsula Aero Club’s 2020 Tyabb Airshow Was A Community Event


On Sunday 8 March, the Peninsula Aero Club at Tyabb Airfield, in Association with Paul Bennet Airshows and Sponsor IOR Aviation, ran their latest airshow with benefits to the comunity including Funflight, for children with severe health issues, Angel Flight, providing free transport for sick people from remote communities, Tyabb CFA, suicide prevention through Chasing Change and other community-based organisations.

As always, it was a great venue with most areas reached along the single crowd line within minutes. Local pilots support the airshow with donated air time and display aircraft on the ground. Tyabb has always had a nice range of vintage and antique aircraft, and has many unique warbirds, several having been restored here.

The display line was nice and close, making all aircraft types very accessible – we had a C.152 aerobatic demonstration, “Larry” the Might Bell 47, and even a RAAF C-17A Globemaster touch-and-go, nobody remembers seeing one of the latter so low at an airshow! Victoria Police Air Wing and, oh, the UFO….

Formations were very much order of the day – two early ones which remembered PAC members Peter Phillips and Ido Segev who were lost in a recent in-flight collision – the “GA tribute” featuring medium twin GA aircraft and a formation featuring some of the airshow participants. The Tiger Moth formation was unfortunately cancelled to a sharp cross wind, but we saw RAAF heritage trainers (CT-4A, Winjeel and ring-in Harvard)…

and the magnificent, warbird “Balbo” (T-28, Boomerang, P-40F and -N, P-51 Mustang, Spitfire Mk.VIII, TBM-3E Avenger, s/n53857 and Corsair). The “communist” formation team also set a fine pace.

Being a “Paul Bennet show”, there were aerobatics galore, with the Wolf Pitts (Paul Bennet), S-1S Special, Rebel 300 (Glenn Graham), “Skyblazers” Pitts S-1-11B Super Stinker (13-time Australian aerobatic champion, 5-time World champion, Chris Sperou), Southern Knights (T-6) , Cessna A152 Aerobat VH-UNP (Gerard Lappin) and the RAAF Roulettes (PC-21) from Central Flying School, RAAF Base, East Sale. Victoria Police Air Wing Dauphine VH-PVH executed a nice departure.

Despite the crosswind and afternoon backlight issues, a great day was had by all, and with an estimated 9,000 attendees, it was clearly a well-supported and successful airshow. The Royal Australian Navy Band supported this event as well. would like to thank the Peninsula Aero Club, the media team and in particular, Mr Ian Johnson, for making their facilities available both during and after, the show. #tyabbairshow