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While the KC-135A is usually used for in-flight refueling, the Airborne Laser Lab is a modified version used for flight testing. Similar to the commercial Boeing 707, the slightly smaller KC-135 was designed to military specifications and operated at high gross weights. The initial flight of a KC-135A took place on August 31, 1956, and the USAF accepted its first one on January 31, 1957. By 1966, 732 KC-135A's had been built and the aircraft had become the USAF's standard tanker. It was also used for transporting cargo or personnel and by 1970 was serving in other roles, too, including reconnaissance, electronic intelligence and project testing.

The NKC-135A on display (S/N 55-3123) is one of 14 KC-135As permanently converted for special testing. It was extensively modified by the Air Force weapons Laboratory at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, and used in an 11-year experiment to prove a high-energy laser could be operated in an aircraft and employed against airborne targets. During the experiment, the Airborne Laser Lab destroyed five AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a Navy BQM-34A target drone. The aircraft was flown to the Museum in May 1988.


Span: 130 ft. 10 in.
Length: 136 ft. 3 in.
Height: 41 ft. 8 in.
Weight: 300,000 lbs. loaded
Armament: None
Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney J57 turbojet engines of 13,750 lbs. thrust each with water injection
Crew: Four
Cost: $3,398,000
Serial number: 55-3123


Maximum Speed: 606 mph.
Cruising Speed: 512 mph.
Service Ceiling: 50,000 ft.
Range: 8,673 miles