French C-135FR Tanker Refuels U.S. Air Force B-52 Bomber Over Europe In Rare International Refueling Operation

This is something you don’t see too often: a U.S. Stratofortress bomber refueled by a foreign tanker.

On Sept. 25, a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, refueled from a French Air Force C-135FR belonging to the Groupe de Ravitaillement en Vol 2/91 “Bretagne” from Istres.

B-52 bombers from the 2nd BW are currently deployed to Europe for three weeks to support Bomber Assurance and Deterrence operations (BAAD).

A French air force KC-135 Stratotanker, refuels a B-52 Stratofortress over Europe Sept. 25, 2017. The Stratofortress is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom in support of bomber assurance and deterrence operations. U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe. Bomber missions demonstrate the credibility and flexibility of the military’s forces to address today’s complex, dynamic and volatile global security environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua J. Garcia)

Based on the footage released by the U.S. Air Force, the C-135FR involved in the refueling mission was the example 471/31-CB that was tracked online while flying over the Tyrrhenian Sea in bound to the refueling area over the Mediterranean Sea via Mode-S/ADS-B transponder (H/T to @CivMilAir for catching the tanker)

Part of the track followed by a FAF C-135FR during the Sept. 25 mission tracked via Mode-S. Image credit: @CivMilAir

Although U.S. Strategic Command bomber forces regularly conduct combined theater security cooperation engagements with allies and partners, demonstrating the U.S. capability to command, control and conduct bomber missions across the globe, the bombers are almost always refueled by U.S. Air Force KC-135s or KC-10s.

Still, B-52s can be refueled by other types of tankers for testing or operative purposes.

For instance, an Italian Air Force Boeing KC-767 tanker (s/n 14-01) refueled a U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52H-150-BW Stratofortress (s/n 60-0036) over California’s Mojave Desert on Mar. 5, 2007, as part of the tanker’s flying boom testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California (USA).

An Italian Air Force Boeing 767 tanker refuels an Edwards B-52 over California’s Mojave Desert on March 5, 2007. The tanker successfully extended its fifth generation, fly-by-wire air refueling boom and transferred fuel for the first time to another aircraft. (Photo by Jet Fabara)

And, as proved by Sept. 25 mission, the “Buff” can be refueled by the French C-135FR that is quite similar to the U.S. KC-135. Usually the FAF tankers operate with a basket attached to the flying boom since FAF planes use the hose and drogue system and get the fuel through an IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe.

The aging fleet of C-135FRs, the French variant of the C-135 used as dual-role tanker/cargo and troop carrier aircraft, will be replaced with A400M and A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport) aircraft. The latter, called the “Phénix” when in service, has been ordered in nine examples by France (plus an additional three that have not yet been confirmed.)




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. The B-52 is still a beautiful plane. The Tu-95, built around the same time, is butt ugly! Even back then Russian technology was inferior. Some things never change.

    • You could not be more wrong. The Bear is a beautiful aircraft. Look at this this way, there’s a lot of American B-29 design influence in that aircraft. And I can tell you having heard the Bear with my own ears on the NJ shoreline during the Cold War, it makes a very unique and pleasant sound on the ground. It also looks very nice when escorted by the F-106’s of the NJANG, and the 555th out of Virginia (back in the day). Respect your enemy, and give them their due when they do a good job. It’s part of staying sharp and alert.

      If you did not pay attention to that video of a Bear carrying an external load of ALCM’s you’re really NOT PAYING ATTENTION to what that really means. Think about what that means when a Tu-95 is carrying a similar external package of goodies as in the old SAC days when we were going to saturate and attack Soviet air defences with mass launches of ALCMs from our B-52s. And here today in 2017 you see a real world example of the Russians testing a similar layout. Before you go poo poo’ing them, THINK about what that implies.

  2. 1. The French saved our butts during the revolution, so I’d expect nothing less than a fine job done by them these centuries later. We always don’t see eye to eye on alot of things, but I don’t think our militaries are ever going to get in a “can’t back what was said” pissing match. Doing so would cut off our nose in spite of our face. 2. The Italians..same thing. We wouldn’t be who we are sans ancient Rome. Last I looked, they’re in Italy. Besides…the food, the food, the food. Not to ever shortchange anything Italian, but…The Food. Good Golly Miss Mollie!

  3. The B-52 certainly never deserved the name “BUFF”. Must’a been some fighter jocks at the Pentagon started it. Probably pokin’ fun at the SAC guys!

  4. Always nice and heartwarming seeing our air forces working together.

    Reminds me the pictures of Superbugs teaming up with Rafales and Super Etendards 2 years ago during joint carrier exercises, and of course last July 14th over the Champs-Elysées with the T-birds and Raptors during our air parade. I was lucky enough to see them circle the skies for 15 minutes from my window, 35km from Paris before the “go”.

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