Our KC-10 Scrapbook
The Boeing KC-10 Extender is a long-ranged air refueling and cargo carrying jet. Based upon the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 airframe, sixty KC-10As were produced for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) during the early 1980s. The type became operational in 1981.
Under the Advanced Tanker Cargo Aircraft Program launched in 1975, four different types of large aircraft were evaluated. Lockheed’s C-5A Galaxy and L-1011 Tristar, and Boeing’s B-747 were three other candidates, while the winning variant was a modified McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30CF. The initial KC-10A first flew on July 12, 1980, and the first air refueling test came about three months later. The aircraft were delivered in a striking blue and white color scheme. Deliveries of operational aircraft commenced in March of 1981; the final aircraft was delivered in November of 1988.
The main deck inside the KC-10 held cargo on a powered roller system or could carry different seating pallets and cargo configurations. Two styles of air refueling methods were accommodated… a manned boom and a single hose and drogue basket system under the fuselage. One third of the KC-10 fleet was modified to carry additional hose and drogue refueling pods under wings. Most U.S. Air Force aircraft used the boom method, while most U.S. Navy and Marine, plus many other nations, used the latter method.
The KC-10 was initially assigned to Strategic Air Command units and transferred to the Air Mobility Command in 1992. During 1990, the first F-15 Eagles that deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield were “dragged” across the Atlantic Ocean by KC-10s. The Extenders flew many hundreds of hours during Desert Shield and Desert Storm; their dual-system air refueling system capabilities allowed for maximum flexibility in planning for various receivers on each flight.
Over its 40 – plus years of service, only one KC-10 has been destroyed, that being in a ground accident during servicing. Of the 59 left in service, the USAF began a drawdown of the KC-10 fleet in 2020. A handful of the jets are now parked at the AMARG in Tucson AZ, as the new KC-46A is distributed to the KC-10’s former units in New Jersey and California.
A handful of DC-10 conversions were made since the KC-10 was produced. The Royal Netherlands Air Force operated a pair of KDC-10s with remotely operated booms from 1995 until 2021. These were converted Martinair airliners. Omega Air Refueling Services has purchased these and will operate them as civilian aircraft, joining another DC-10 converted to a tanker with just outboard wing-mounted hose and drogue systems.
Here’s a gallery with some KC-10 Extender photos from the past four decades.