U.S. KC-135 refueling plane crashed in Kyrgyzstan. Air Force got rid of parachutes on these tankers in 2008.

May 03 2013 - 16 Comments

Local news outlets are reporting that a C -135 tanker (most probably a KC-135) aircraft disappeared from radar screens near Kyrgyz-Kazakh border owned by U.S. Manas Transit Center.

According to Interfax, the Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Ministryconfirmed the information about the plane crash. Looks like citizens of Zhayil region saw the blast of the aircraft crashing into a mountain.


Image credit: Russell Hill

Although it’s too early to say ejection seats or chutes may have saved the crew, we can’t but notice that the KC-135 has no ejection seats.

Actually, there is an escape hatch on the KC-135 but chutes were removed from the Stratotankers, bacause:

“KC-135s are not like other aircraft. They seldom have mishaps, and the likelihood a KC-135 crew member would ever need to use a parachute is extremely low,” according to an article published on the Air Force website.

KC-135 are deployed to Manas in Kyrzyzstan to support Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.

In 2004, an Air Force KC-135 collided on the ground at Manas with a Kyrgyzstan Airlines Tupolev Tu-154. There were no injuries on either aircraft.

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  • RIP Crew

  • Bigdirk

    This comment about the “safety” of the KC-135 is typically arrogant. Tell that to the widows and orphans.

    • Maybe you can tell the world how many KC-135’s have exploded in mid air in the past 50 years where a parachute would have or could have saved a life?
      I’ll give you a hint…. ZERO.
      each of the KC-135’s that have crashed have done so on take off and landing where a chute would have been irrelevant.
      One last thing the article fails to mention though, Parachutes are put back on the acft when they deploy overseas – they were only removed for day to day flight ops. This one likely had three chutes for the three crew members. not that it would have mattered anyways, likely-hood of bailing out is slim anyways. (22 years on this acft)

      • Bigdirk

        Agree with all you say Tracy. Having experience of how the UK senior military work prompted my original post. I see no reason to believe that the senior military of other air forces would be any different. With regard to parachutes, not parachutes – ejector seats. Some reports state that this A/C was on fire before the crash ie, its fuel load ignited (was it a bomb?) in which case as you say, parachutes are irrelevant. The only means of emergency egress is by ejector seat. Then again, the same mindset that removed parachutes would balk at the cost/benefit of implementing such a measure.

      • Boom-op

        On the fact of the parachutes, they are removed even at deployed locations. The escape spoiler is also deacivated. With that being said the aircraft had 0 parachutes on board. This is coming from an individual that is still doing the job on board this airframe with numerious deployments to that exact location.

      • 1982 a KC-135 exploded in Spain in midair killing everyone on board. There have been a number of midair collisions as well that killed everyone on board.

        As for the door having to be opened, there is an extremely large bar mounted above where the floor lifts up as you come up the ladder. In an emergency that bar falls through the door and rips it off. It’s been used successfully once that I know of when three of five crew bailed out of the aircraft after several mechanical failures. The Aircraft Commander and copilot went on to land the aircraft safely.

  • Brad

    These last couple of days I have been listening to KC-135s from Fairchild AFB operating under the Mobile callsign. I wonder if that is where this one is from.

  • howdy

    hmm… lets think about this for a brief second. this so called emergency exit is the same opening where the crew enter the aircraft, the cramped flight deck. the parachutes are located in the cargo area of the plane. if they crashed into a mountain there were obviously other avionic problems going on also. even if they knew they were going to crash, the crew would have to run to the back, put on the chutes, run back to the front, release the air dam that severs the door hinges then one by one jump out. how far do you think that plane would travel when your doing a few hundred miles an hour?

    • Exactly. Those of us lucky enough to serve as aircrew on this aircraft did our parachute training, did our emergency egress training, always knowing that in a real emergency (most likely to happen on takeoff and landing), there would never be time for any of it. And yes, it is true that this aircraft has a stellar safety record for an airplane that’s been flying over 50 years! Keep in mind that the last time a fatal tanker accident happened was over 13 years ago, which is why this recent accident is so shocking. Heavy, sad heart….and saying prayers for the families of our lost airmen.

      Graciela Tiscareno-Sato
      KC-135 Navigator and Instructor
      Author, Good Night Captain Mama

  • PlaneGuy135

    You can see some of the pictures from the AP. McConnell tail 63-8877. Sad to see it crash. As an added note, the escape spoiler is not charged and only checked when in depot. The door would have to be opened up into the air stream (not going to happen) for the crew to escape. Sorry to hear we lost members of the USAF.

  • michse

    it was not in 2004, when a KC-135R collided with a Tu-154, it was on 2006-09-26 and the unlucky KC-135 was the 63-8886 …

  • BadgerMk1

    Let’s not forget that these jets should have been retired years ago but our own bumbling acquisitions process couldn’t get around to making a timely selection. And we’re still years away from the KC-46 reaching IOC.

  • jetmech

    The Escape spoiler does not shear off or punch thru the door. The fwd hinge pins and aft door latch are released prior to the escape spoiler nitrogen bottle actuating the spoiler down into the slip stream. The door will fall away quickly. During alert stances, the seat cushions are replaced with the parachute, either way, once an airplane starts spinning, it would be very difficult to escape. In the commercial world where I now work, we install hand holds and modify the fueslge with additional escape hatches and a drag-chute so the crew has a fighting chance of getting out of an out of control airplane.

  • Boomer

    Units still put 3 chutes by the boom pod. But getting it on in an emergency is unlikely. Meanwhile, there have been about 75 total -135’s lost since it came out and at least 8 fuel system related explosions. A/R pump overheat or boos pump initiated explosions. I’d say that is a dismal rate for explosions. Glad I lived to see retirement recently!

    Boom’s checking off…

  • Tanker Jim

    In every case that I am aware of the emergency situation was either so catastrophic that no one could get out, or the aircraft was able to land safely. I was quite happy when we no longer had to put parachutes in the seat. I spent 17 years as as a 135 crewmember. It is a very safe aircraft, losses are rarely due to malfunction, but no aircraft is perfect.

  • globemaster

    In regards to the parachutes being removed, you may remember one of the reasons for the chutes was that many Tanker Squadrons had “one way missions” under the Nuclear SIOP system, the tankers would go as far as they could with the bombers offload all the fuel that the bombers would need and then find a nice place to bail out. when they started to rethink the who nuclear war plans is when they thought some money could be saved by removing parachutes, radiation curtains, EMP hardened avionics…etc