Military Aviation

KC-10A Extender

KC-10A Extender


Although the KC-10A's primary mission is aerial refueling, it can combine the tasks of tanker and cargo aircraft by refueling fighters while carrying the fighters' support people and equipment during overseas deployments. The KC-10A can transport up to 75 people and about 170,000 pounds (76,560 kilograms) of cargo a distance of about 4,400 miles (7,040 kilometers). Without cargo, the KC-10A's unrefueled range is more than 11,500 miles.


In addition to DC-10 wing fuel tanks, the KC-10A has two large fuel tanks under the cargo floor, one under the forward lower cargo compartment and one under the rear compartment. Combined, the six tanks carry more than 356,000 pounds (160,200 kilograms) of fuel -- almost twice as much as the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Using either an advanced aerial refueling boom, or a hose and drogue refueling system, the KC-10A can refuel a wide variety of U.S. and allied military aircraft. It is equipped with special lighting for night operations.

The KC-10A's boom operator controls refueling operations through a digital fly-by-wire system. Sitting in the rear of the aircraft, the operator can see the receiver aircraft through a wide window. During boom refueling operations, fuel is transferred to the receiver at a maximum rate of 1,100 gallons (4,180 liters) per minute; the hose and drogue refueling maximum rate is 470 gallons (1,786 liters) per minute. The KC-10A can be air-refueled by a KC-135 or another KC-10A to increase its delivery range.

The large cargo-loading door can accept most tactical air forces' fighter unit support equipment moving heavy loads. The cargo compartment can accommodate loads ranging from 27 pallets to a mix of 17 pallets and 75 passengers.

The sophisticated avionics of the aircraft improve crew efficiency and reduce crew workload. On certain missions, additional seats and bunks can be rearranged to accommodate extra crew members.


A modified McDonnell Douglas DC-10, the KC-10A entered service in 1981. Although 88 percent of its systems are common with the DC-10, it has additional systems and equipment necessary for its Air Force mission. Additions include military avionics; an aerial refueling boom, an aerial refueling hose and drogue, a seated aerial refueling operator station and an aerial refueling receptacle. The KC-10A fleet is being modified to add wing-mounted pods to further enhance aerial refueling capabilities.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the KC-10 fleet provided in-flight refueling to aircraft from all branches of the U.S. armed forces as well as those of other coalition forces. In-flight refueling extended the range and capability of all U.S. and other coalition fighter aircraft. Air operations continued without costly and time-consuming ground refueling. In-flight refueling was key to the rapid airlift of material and forces. In addition to refueling airlift aircraft, the KC-10A, along with the smaller KC-135, moved thousands of tons of cargo and thousands of troops in support of the massive Persian Gulf build-up.

The KC-10A and the KC-135 conducted about 51,700 separate refueling operations and delivered 125 million gallons (475 million liters) of fuel without missing a single scheduled rendezvous.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Aerial refueling/transport.
Contractor: Douglas Aircraft Co.
Power Plant: Three General Electric CF-6-50C2 turbofans
Thrust: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kilograms), each engine
Length: 181 feet, 7 inches (54.4 meters)
Height: 58 feet, 1 inch (17.4 meters)
Wingspan: 165 feet, 4 1/2 inches (50 meters)
Speed: 619 mph (Mach 0.825)
Ceiling: 42,000 feet (12,727 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 590,000 pounds (265,500 kilograms)
Range: 4,400 miles (3,800 nautical miles) with cargo; 11,500 miles (10,000 nautical miles) without cargo
Unit Cost: $86.3 million (1992 dollars)
Crew: Four (aircraft commander, pilot, flight engineer and boom operator)
Date Deployed: March 1981
Inventory: Active force, 59; ANG, 0; Reserve, 0

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