New tankers in old memories

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
As the Air Force veteran and former Boeing Co. mechanic flipped through fragile scrapbook pages full of memorabilia, old pictures and newspaper articles sparked memories of his days as an Airman and his experience working for Boeing on the brand new model of KC-135R Stratotankers.

Glen Mishler spent over two years as a B-17 Flying Fortress gunner during World War II before he went on to work for Boeing, where he helped transition the KC-135 from the previous models to the R-model.

Being part of the initial test crew included running lots of tests, multiple test flights and trouble-shooting various engine problems.

"There were a lot of challenges that had to be overcome before the planes were ready," he said.

The transition to the new and improved KC-135R included many changes to the original models, the most significant of which was the installation of new engines.

The improvements nearly doubled the thrust of the aircraft, meaning the tanker could greatly increase its operational range, offload 50 percent more fuel and cost less to operate, said Daniel Williams, 22nd Air Refueling Wing historian.

Mishler recalled a specific test flight when he and his crew realized just how powerful these changes were.

During that flight, the crew put the plane through a routine test maneuver under the same conditions used on the older KC-135 models. They went up to 30,000 feet, steeply nosed the aircraft down for 15 seconds and then pulled the aircraft up.

"When we went to pull the dive up we hit sonic," said Mishler. "It just rattled everything. You go from 7,900 pounds of thrust on the old engines to 22,500 on this one, what more do you want?"

After meeting testing requirements, Boeing delivered the first KC-135R Stratotankers to McConnell's 384th Air Refueling Wing in 1984.

"They rolled right across the runway from the Boeing ramp to McConnell," said Williams.

As Mishler reminisces on the memories made working for Boeing and helping with the success of the KC-135R, he still keeps track of current developments being made with the up-and-coming KC-46A Pegasus.

It's pretty neat to have been part of such a huge operation back in the '80s and now watch how things continue to progress and transition over time. It's exciting, said the 90-year-old and last remaining member of his KC-135R test crew.

"A lot more work went into that tanker than most people realize," he said. "It was satisfying work."

Scrapbook pages and memories may fade in time, but the work that Mishler and his crew contributed to the KC-135R has shaped modern aerial refueling and will continue to leave its mark on future generations of tankers.