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KC-10 Extender
KC-10 Extender
Role Air-to-air tanker
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
Introduced 1981
Status Active service
Primary users United States Air Force
Royal Netherlands Air Force (KDC-10)
Produced KC-10: 1979-1987
Number built KC-10: 60
KDC-10: 4
Unit cost KC-10: US$88.4 million (1998)
Developed from McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30

The KC-10 Extender is an air-to-air tanker aircraft in service with the United States Air Force derived from the civilian DC-10-30 airliner. The KC-10 was the second consecutive McDonnell Douglas transport aircraft to be selected by the US Air Force following the C-9 Nightingale.


Design and development

Beginning with the Vietnam War doubts began to be raised about the ability of the 700+ strong KC-135 fleet to meet the needs of the United States’ global commitments. The air-refueling fleet was deployed to South-East Asia in support of tactical aircraft and strategic bombers, while maintaining the US-based support of the nuclear bomber fleet. As a result, studies began into the feasibility of acquiring an air-to-air tanker with a greater capability than the KC-135 fleet, but did not progress well due to lack of funding.

The 1973 Yom Kippur War and the US Operation Nickel Grass demonstrated the necessity of adequate air-refueling capabilities.[1] Denied landing rights in Europe, USAF C-5 Galaxies were forced to carry a fraction of their maximum payload on direct flights from the continental United States to Israel. As a result C-5 crews were soon trained in aerial-refueling and the Department of Defense concluded that a more advanced tanker was needed.

In 1975, under the "Advance Tanker Cargo Aircraft" program, four aircraft were evaluated: the C-5 itself, the Boeing 747, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and the Lockheed L-1011. The U.S Air Force selected McDonnell Douglas's DC-10 over Boeing's 747 in December 1977.[2]

The design for the KC-10 involved only modifications from the DC-10-30CF design. The major changes were the addition of a boom control station in the rear of the fuselage and extra fuel tanks below the main deck. The KC-10 has both a centerline refueling boom and a drogue/hose system on the right side of the rear fuselage.[1] Other changes from the DC-10-30CF include the removal of most cargo doors and windows.[3]

A KC-10 from Travis AFB taking off from RAF Mildenhall.

The KC-10 first flew on 12 July 1980.[1] Early aircraft featured a paint scheme with light gray on the airplane's belly and white on the upper portion.[1] A gray-green camouflage scheme was used on later tankers. Aircraft have since been switched to a medium gray color.[1] The KC-10 boom operator is located in the rear of the airplane with wide window for monitoring refueling. The operator controls refueling operations through a digital, fly-by wire system.[4]

A total of 20 KC-10s were later modified to add wing-mounted pods for added refueling locations.[4] In addition to the USAF refueling boom, the KC-10's hose and drogue system allows refueling of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and most NATO allied aircraft. This gives the KC-10 the ability to refuel USAF, USN, USMC and other NATO aircraft, all in the same mission.



A need for new transport aircraft for the Royal Netherlands Air Force was first identified in 1984. In 1991 four categories of transport requirements were established. Category A required a large cargo aircraft with a range of at least 4500 km and the capability to refuel F-16s. In 1992, 2 DC-10-30CFs were acquired from Martinair in a buy/leaseback contract. When one of the bought aircraft was lost in the Martinair Flight 495 crash, a third aircraft was bought from Martinair.[5]

The conversion was handled via the United States foreign military sales program, which in turn contracted McDonnell Douglas, the designer of both the DC-10 and the KC-10 tanker. Costs for the conversion were initially estimated at $89.5 million (FY 1994). The aircraft was to be equipped with both a boom and a probe and drogue system. However, because McDonnell Douglas did not have any experience with the requested Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) system, and because the third aircraft differed from the original two, the program could not be completed at budget. By omitting the probe and drogue system and a fixed partition wall between the cargo and passenger, the cost could be limited at $96 million. To make up for the cost increase McDonnell Douglas hired Dutch companies to do part of the work. The actual converting of the aircraft for instance was done by KLM. Conversion of the aircraft was done from October 1994 to September 1995 for the first aircraft and from February to December 1995 for the second. This was much longer than planned, mostly because McDonnell Douglas did not deliver the parts in time. This would have again increased the cost, but in the contract for the AH-64 Apaches which the Royal Netherlands Air Force also bought from McDonnell Douglas, the price was agreed to be kept at $96 million.[5]

In 2005 Fokker Services (NL) was awarded with a contract to update the avionics on the 2 KDC-10 and 1 DC-10 airplanes of the Royal Netherlands Air Force to a common standard. The airplanes will be updated with digital cockpits, Link 16 and satellite communications. This design is now offered by Boeing to the US Air Force to update their KC-10s.[citation needed]

Operational history

United States

A KC-10 Extender from Travis Air Force Base, CA, refuels an F-22 Raptor.

The KC-10 was delivered to the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) (then in control of AAR assets) from 1981 to 1987.[1] SAC had KC-10 Extenders in service from 1981-92, when they were re-assigned to the newly established Air Mobility Command.

In the AAR role, the KC-10s have operated largely in the strategic refueling of large number of tactical aircraft on ferry flights and the refueling of other strategic transport aircraft. Conversely, the KC-135 fleet has operated largely in the in-theatre tactical role.

When faced with refusals of basing and overflight rights from continental European countries during Operation El Dorado Canyon, the U.S. was forced to use the UK-based F-111s in the 1986 air-strikes against Libya. The KC-10s allowed 29 F-111s to reach their targets.

The KC-10 fleet facilitated the deployment of tactical, strategic, and transport aircraft to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield.

There are 59 KC-10 Extenders currently in service.[4] The KC-10 has a significantly larger fuel capacity than the Air Force's other tanker plane, the KC-135,[6] of which there are over 500 in service. The USAF's KC-10s are stationed primarily at Travis AFB, California and McGuire AFB, New Jersey.

USAF KC-10s have been in heavy use supporting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2009. They perform refueling mission the bulk of the time with cargo and personnel transport also conducted.[7]

The Netherlands

The two Dutch KDC-10s, T-264 "Prins Bernard" and T-235 "Jan Scheffer", are used for both refueling and transport. They are stationed on Eindhoven Airport as part of the 334th Transport Squadron.[8] Of the 5500 hours flown in the first 3 years of use, the aircraft were used in their tanker role for 50% of the time. Besides being used for the air force and allies, the KDC-10s are also used to support peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations. Of the first 3 years, 32% of the flight hours were used for peacekeeping and humanitarian aid.[5]

In this function, the aircraft have been deployed to Kosovo to evacuate refugees, to the Caribbean and Central America to provide humanitarian aid after the hurricanes Luis, Georges and Mitch and to various countries in Africa and Asia to provide development aid. In 1998, the aircraft were also used to evacuate Dutch citizens from Indonesia during the Fall of Suharto. Dutch KDC-10s have been operating out of Manas AFB in support of allied forces during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Commercial DC-10-based refuelers

Also, commercial refueling companies Omega Air and Global Air Tanker Service operates two KDC-10 tankers for lease (N852V and N974VV).[9][10] They were converted from DC-10-40s and provide both probe and drogue refueling capabilities.[11]


A KC-10 (right foreground) and C-17 (left background) at Avalon Airport, Australia, in March 2005
 United States


On 17 September 1987 aircraft serial number 82-0190 was lost after an explosion and subsequent fire. The tanker was undergoing maintenance on the ground at Barksdale AFB, LA. One member of the ground crew, the crew chief, died in the fire.[13]

Specifications (KC-10A)

Data from USAF Fact sheet,[4] Steffen[14]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4 (pilot, copilot, flight engineer, boom operator)
  • Length: 181 ft 7 in (54.4 m)
  • Wingspan: 165 ft 4.5 in (50 m)
  • Height: 58 ft 1 in (17.4 m)
  • Wing area: 3,958 ft² (367.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 241,027 lb (109,328 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 593,000 lb (269,000 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 590,000 lb (267,600 kg)
  • Powerplant:F103/General Electric CF6-50C2 turbofans, 52,500 lbf (236 kN) each
  • Maximum fuel capacity: 356,000 lb (160,200 kg) (limited on takeoff by MTOW)
A KC-10 on display at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2005


See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ a b c d e f Steffen 1998, p. 103-107.
  2. ^ Frawley, Gerard: The International Directory of Military Aircraft, 2002-2003, p. 119. Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd, 2002. ISBN 1-875671-55-2.
  3. ^ KC-10, Building a Bridge...,
  4. ^ a b c d KC-10 Extender fact sheet, USAF, September 2008.
  5. ^ a b c Ministerie van Defensie (1999-07-01). "Kamerbrieven - Evaluatie KDC-10" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  6. ^ KC-10A Extender description.
  7. ^ Tirpak, John A. "Risky Business". Air Force Magazine, December 2009.
  8. ^ Koninklijke Luchtmacht. "Materieel - Transportvliegtuigen - KDC-10 - Introductie" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  9. ^ Omega Air Refuelling FAQs, Omega Air Refueling.
  10. ^ KDC-10 Air Refueling Tanker Aircraft, Global Airtanker Service.
  11. ^ Global Air Tanker Services (GAS). "KDC-10: Primary Options". Retrieved 2008-02-25. 
  12. ^ Mehuron, Tamar A., Assoc. Editor. 2008 USAF Almanac, Fact and Figures, Air Force Magazine, May 2008.
  13. ^ McDonnell Douglas KC-10A 82-0190 at the Aviation Safety Network Database
  14. ^ Steffen 1998, p. 107.
  • Steffen, Arthur A C. McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and KC-10 Extender, Aerofax, 1998. ISBN 1857800516.

External links


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