Early in the 1970s it was evident the KC-135 Stratotanker had limited operational capabilities and was unable to maintain the demands of the U.S. Air Force. To augment its duties and procure a larger, long-range, general-purpose tanker, the KC-10 Extender was purchased in 1978 and entered service in 1981.
Although it retains 88% commonality with the DC-10, it has additional systems and equipment necessary for its Air Force mission. These additions include military grade avionics, an aerial refueling boom and hose and drogue system, a seated refueling operator station, refueling receptacle, and satellite communications.
The KC-10 was crucial in supporting global military operations. As with the KC-135, it allowed strategic aircraft to reach their destination without stopping. Long-range deployment of tactical fighters was simultaneously provided in-flight refueling and cargo airlift. When needed, it could reconfigure into an aeromedevac role to transport litter patients.
The museum’s KC-10 was the first built and was a prototype for the fleet of sixty. In April 1978 it concluded a 184-hour test which included 1,398 hookups with six aircraft: C-5A, F-4, NKC-135, A-10, TF-15, and a B-52.