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

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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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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)

      • 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.

      • 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.

      • at the time I was in service they had four man crews technology removed the navigator
        And will eventually force this plane into the past I loved this plane and still feel that old feeling every time I see one fly over they are aging more gracefully than those of us that have crewed and maintained it in some instances I still feel that entry grate hitting my head

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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.

    • Door gets removed when escape spoiler is activated the spoiler makes a windbreak so you can drop out far enough to clear aircraft without rolling under the plane and getting mashed the actuator had around 3200 psi of force if lucky this works without a flaw and you get away from plane without being torn up on the the antennas then if you manage in an emergency to get your chute on you have a chance, but your pacs go down with plane screaming , in many years on this plane never saw a situation where there was time to bail out of this plane being a flying gas station . And the nature of crashes being suddenly catastrophic chutes just a waste of time

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