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The Boeing C-135 Series: Stratotanker, Stratolifter and other Variants, by Don Logan, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, Pa., 1998, $49.95

It is hard to believe that only five decades ago the Boeing Company had a total value of little more than $16 million—a paltry sum considering the current list price of $158 million for a single Model 747-400. Perhaps even more inconceivable is that, in 1952, the company gambled nearly its entire worth to launch an expensive prototype program designed to supply virtually nonexistent markets for both military tanker transport aircraft and commercial passenger airliners. Add to that Boeing’s going the project alone—using only private funds because no government backing could be secured—and the entire story could have only one outcome to make it worth telling: unqualified success. That success came in the form of prototype Model 367-80, which would perfectly anticipate the market, emerging within three years as the KC-135 military tanker and civilian 707 passenger jet projects.

In his exhaustive 256-page study of the C-135 program, Don Logan explores the early origins of the “Dash Eighty” and further demystifies all later permutations of the C-135 program, cataloging current allocations and histories of individual serial numbers for the aircraft he terms simply “the most successful military jet ever built.”

A veteran Air Force weapons system officer, author of five other works on modern military aircraft, and a manual writer and editor for Boeing, Logan makes sure it is all here. Numerous color photos and technically detailed text cover every conceivable role the C-135 has filled over the years: a flying fuel depot for bomber and other aircraft (KC-135A, B and C model tankers); a zero-g weightlessness chamber for experiments by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (KC-135A); a flying weather reconnaissance station (WC-135B); a nuclear weapons test support site (NC-135S); a certifier of high-altitude jet routes for the Federal Aviation Authority (KC-135A); and a mother hen feeding exotic fuel to a fleet of super-fast, super-high-altitude SR-71 Blackbirds (KC-135Q). Of course the aircraft’s most famous role may well have been as the Strategic Air Command’s airborne command-and-control center, which, during the Cold War days, provided a relay point for presidential orders in the event of nuclear destruction of ground-based centers (it included the continuously aloft “Looking Glass” EC-135s).

Also of note is the accounting of C-135s built since deliveries to the Air Force began in 1957. “After 30 years, of the 820 aircraft built, 75 have been lost due to accidents, 15 are on display in museums, and approximately 100 have been retired, leaving approximately 690 aircraft still in service,” Logan writes of the program, which ended in 1965. Other interesting information includes dimensional specification tables and drawings, a complete listing of crashed aircraft, photographs of nose art, and military unit markings.

For anyone who has ever flown or served as a crew member on a C-135 and for those who are interested in the history behind this legendary aircraft, Logan’s book should prove a satisfying experience and worthwhile reference.