Copilot KC-135R Block 40 Training

  I'm going through co-pilot school for KC-135R in the USAF and would like to share my experience with Mudspike.  Right now my plan is to describe how program operates, provide overlook of simulation portion of training and then talk about actual flying.  Hopefully my experience will provide interesting read. 

So here’s a KC-135R… over 55 years old aircraft primarily designed for aerial refueling B-52 on a one way mission.


That sounds great Sim - looking forward to reading more. :beers:

Indeed! I’m really interested to hear about what kind of avionics the KC-135 uses. I can’t imagine flying something so massive (4 engines!!)… This is gonna be good!


       So what does it take to raise a gear and talk on a radio? Program is 4-5 months long located at Altus AFB and divided into academics, full motion simulator and finally flying actual aircraft. USAF hired a Canadian based company called CAE to provide everything but flight training. Academics consists of computer training, self reading, briefing/debriefing, cockpit trainers and class room. Combined total time is around 590 hours.  Instead of huge pile of papers, USAF is doing its job to save trees so each student is issued a fancy and already heavily used iPad with all of the required publications pre-loaded. CAE on other hand didn't get the memo and provided about 3 foot worth of guides. 
        Each academics section is subdivided into airplane parts; hydraulics, engines, electric etc.  A student would spend few hours doing computer based lessons. Then spend a lot of time doing self-study that involves reading all of the required documents and doing homework. Following self-study, a student would have a class session where instructor talks about what you've learned while answering any lingering questions.  Finally, two students acting like a pilot and copilot spend 2 hours per session in a simulator with instructor going through in-depth look at each switch and each step of that particular system. There are 10 system simulators consisting of 26 hours of training.  

Cockpit trainers, otherwise known as cardboard boxes are used to learn location of switches and various systems. Initially students spend a lot of time practicing checklists and learning systems like FMS (flight management system).


OMG, those are some amazing pics @simfreak!

  With academic classes still going on and after cockpit familiarization, main simulation stage starts.  That stage consists of 24 simulated missions 4 hours each. Typically after two hours, students switch places so each person gets left and right seat experience.  As students get more experience doing normal procedures, emergencies are introduced so in the end landing with one engine inop is very common.   

Full motion simulator. A replica of 135 cockpit installed inside a two story hydraulically operated booth on stilts.

  The sim has X and Y motion with limited Z axis. Inside the pit, hydraulics power yoke, rudder and tiller. (maybe trimmer wheel). Also entire cabin can vibrate rather nicely. During one sim session when we extended speed brakes, the sim vibrated so much that it broke; some equipment got loose and we had to restart the sim which takes over 10 minutes. 

Copilot seat

Pilots seat

Visually sim is rather outdated compared to computer sims like DCS, FSX and X-Plane. CAE currently
maintains “old” visuals and “new” visuals. “Old” visuals look like they are from before 386 days. Think Aces of the Pacific /Europe where everything is boxy and full of green textures. Pictures that you see are from new visuals. I’d say compared to PC gaming, those new visuals are about 10 years old.
Field of view is from 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock using projections and give a feeling of smooth transition between monitors.


The new visuals look pretty good. I bet a physical sensation and that field of view makes a huge difference too. Nice photos!

Instructor usually sits behind and controls using a large control panel. From there he can make anything from engine failure to change winds from a different direction. Then when instructor wants more close and personal experience by sitting in any seats, he can control a sim using a mobile computer.

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This picture is from an old sim. It doesn’t look that bad…right?

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It looks pretty good - with the real pit and all the other things, it looks great overall compared to home stuff.

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The issue is details of runway environment so your ques when you want to flare changes based on which sim you fly. With old sim, it’s harder to figure out when it should be done and therefore landing could be more challenging. Thankfully old sim will be replaced soon. Also actual flight model is different in an old sim. For example ground effect is different in old visuals and new sim. Students have to keep in mind which sim they are in and react to it instead of actually getting ready for the real aircraft.

I think you transposed a number. The -135 is over 55 years old, not 75.

The new visuals in the OFT is part of the VSR mod. If you look at the top, the projectors were reduced from 5 to 3, with an increase in acuity. Detail on custom airfields are outstanding. You should see Kadena AB as an example.

If you get time (which your program does not have a lot of) try for a session in the BOWST. That’ll give you some respect for your boom operators and what we go through.

Good luck in your training. Listen to your instructors. Even the IBs, as we’ve often saved a few co’s from making a poor decision.


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A lot of tails here start with 62 and 63. 2015 - 1963 = 52 years…I mistyped.

I’ll have to check it out. But that will have to wait until I get to next location.
And listening to all crews is part of good CRM…so everyone’s input is welcomed. I don’t have big enough ego where I shut someone down. I’ve seen other end of that spectrum and it produces nothing but hostile environment with no safety margin.

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                                                 First flight. Part 1 

   Students are paired up together and perform interior inspection checklist together which typically takes from 30 minutes to a hour depending on students or issues that arise like broken parts and any other issues that popup. Then person in the right stays and instructor gets in for an engine start and the rest of flight. That is done on first two flights as a safety precaution since only left seat has ground steering and ABS brakes. I won the lottery for the right seat for my first flight. So on my first flight, I took off with 100,000 pounds of fuel, conducted in-route randevu with C-17 to AR track at FL210, off-loaded 30k while practicing autopilot on/off and then went to a field to practice landings. Students change places at predetermined time so each get's equal amount of love in the aircraft.  

            Let's compare  experience and a simulator. During take-off run, rudder pedals felt very light so I had to quickly stop over correcting to keep centerline since there was significant difference of force required. In the sim entire cockpit would shake in Z-axis giving sense of side motion which was way over done; aircraft didn't have that feeling at all. Then the amount of force required on my first takeoff compared to the force required in a simulator was very dissimilar to what I expected.  Amount of how much back yoke pressure required to apply during takeoff was surprisingly almost none-existed . The sim required way too much force and therefore pilot could produce over-rotation in the real aircraft if applied same experience as in the simulator. During climb-out the yoke felt much lighter and keeping correct trim setting was very easy.  Next was refueling. Instructor let me play with fuel panel while autopilot kept aircraft in the position so my concentration was elsewhere. I'll talk later about fuel panel since it's a good topic to mention. My turn behind controls was with autopilot off. Oh boy that's an experience! The sim got nothing on this. As receiver approaches, it will push your aircraft. Also as boom moves, it affects aircraft by increasing/decreasing drag and/or causing roll. So I'm having loads of fun keeping aircraft stable. As I recall, I got into a slow sine wave of +/- 100 feet with airspeed dropping in the climb and increasing during descent. As receiver approached to about 20 feet, he couldn't get closer (there is an aerodynamic barrier that requires power change and then quick power reduction) and by then my seat time was up. Anyhow, I need more time. 


Thank you for this thread, very interesting!

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Transition at Clinton-Sherman. Nice wide/long runway.

Hope you had fun.


                First Flight. Part 2: Pattern work and landings.   

Pattern is where biggest differences are noticed in the aircraft. The sim has a very “on rails” feeling. I don’t know why but all of the commercial aircraft simulators I tested has this feeling. Like a bunch of “if, then” statements has been inputted by people with zero aviation experience. They have all of mechanical things close but feeling of flight is lacking. Here’s where the modern computer based flight simulators shine. To me first feeling of flight came from leaked IL-2 beta when you engaged Bf-109 vs p-39 scenario. Then Digital Combat Simulator with advanced flight model of Su-25. Followed by Rise of Flight and IL-2 Battle of Stalingrad. With strongest sensation being in DCS with professional flight model. Somehow aircraft feels alive.

In the pattern and especially during approach and landing, I learned to use fuel flow as initial setting for thrust setting. I would set X fuel flow per engine and give it a few potatoes and then tweak it. After I wouldn’t have to touch it again unless airspeed trend is noticed. That is in the sim. Real aircraft had PMCs that are aggressive and abrupt. PMC is a computer on the engine that trims fuel to keep desired N1 setting. So as throttle is set, PMC will take over and start changing fuel flow to setting what it thinks you wanted while fuel flow gauge is bouncing all over. And then you have responsiveness of throttles where as a flight sim junky I would set a nice smooth curve with deadband. In the aircraft, just placing finger on the throttle can give PMC a new mission goal and everything starts all over. But wait there is more. Each throttle is linked to an engine slightly differently so if you line up all throttles together, they would read (for example) 75, 77, 71, 76. So to produce symmetrical setting can be a challenge. Now add updrafts and down drafts with strong gusty crosswind and things turn fun. I love it!

During pattern, crosswind was out of limit for touch and go during my partners session. It was over 15 knots so each time we would have to go around. But when I jumped in the right seat, winds come down so I managed to have a nice stable approach and touch and go while fighting PMCs on final. Without stroking my ego, It was a beautiful first landing - no crab with very soft touch. With flaps at 40 degrees and on speed, typically pilot moves throttles to idle at 100 feet agl, and uses both hands to flare. Once nose wheel touches down, pilot flying moves throttles outside of ground idle setting by giving them a small bump (if he doesn’t it will take over 30 seconds to go back to take off setting), pilot not flying moves flaps to 20 degrees and re-trims aircraft while waiting for PMCs to stabilize. Then pilot moves throttles to pre-briefed N1 settings and waits for rotate call by pilot not flying. Very simple.

Flying this wonderful old beasts is such a pleasure.


It was a blast. Unfortunately to complete other student, I had to give up controls since wind got better so my count was 2 go arounds due to wind and 2 touch n gos.

Not only are there variations in the mechanical linkages and electrical sensors picking up and translating throttle position, but each engine is its own unique beast. Even if you were to achieve the exact same throttle setting, differences in mechanical and assembly tolerances throughout the engine would create different performance values. This variability doesn’t seem to be captured well in most home flight simulations, and it’s a pity it’s not represented in your commercial/military sim, since that appears to have an impact on how you fly.

“…and I’ve never made a landing as beautiful since.” – Every Pilot Ever

Joking aside, congrats on the landing. During my short stint as a pilot (<200 hours, civilian), smooth landings were my greatest challenge, but some of my greatest accomplishments. And then there were those other “landings” *hides head*.

Loving the step by step descriptions, the impressions, and, most of all, the pics. Keep 'em coming!