KC-97L Stratofreighter

This Stratofreighter was assigned to the Strategic Air Command in 1955 at Westover AFB, Mass. In 1965 it was converted to KC-97L status by the addition of two jet engines and transferred to the Tennessee Air National Guard.


The KC-97 Stratofreighter was an instrumental factor in providing SAC with genuine intercontinental capability. It was introduced in 1950 (first flown on 15 November 1944) using the “flying boom” in-flight refueling system. Originally, the aircraft was equipped with only four Pratt & Whitney R-4360 radial engines and designated as KC-97Gs. Later, two J-47 turbojet engines were added to allow the redesignated KC-97L to safely refuel the B-47 and B-52 jet aircraft.

The KC-97 saw service well into the Vietnam Conflict era. There were 888 C-97s built between 1951 and 1956, 814 of these were modified to KC-97 tankers.

Because of its slow cruising speed and low cruising altitude, the KC-97 had difficulty being an efficient refueler to high-speed jet aircraft. To refuel a faster, jet aircraft, it performed a maneuver called “tobogganing.” The refueling connection would be made high up and then the tanker and jet flew “downhill” together enabling the tanker to pick up more speed.

The KC-97L, with its jet engines mounted under each wing, gave the tanker added speed required for takeoff and flight. This setup also enabled it to refuel jet aircraft without “tobogganing.” The KC-97L carried both AVGAS and jet fuel. The AVGAS was used to power its radial Piston engines while the jet fuel was carried to power its two jet engines and to be off loaded to its receivers. In the late-1950s, two KC-97Gs were converted to a KC-97Js. These aircraft incorporated YT43-P-5 turboprops and were used as flying test-beds by the USAF.

The U.S. Air Force really needed an all-jet transport/tanker and chose the new KC-135 Stratotanker, which remains in service almost 40 years later. The KC-97 is the direct predecessor of the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. In fact, the last KC-97 and the first KC-135 were rolled out of the Boeing assembly plant on the same day.

When acting as a transport, the C-97 could carry 68,500 pounds of cargo or up to 96 fully-equipped troops. In the tanker role, the KC-97 was capable of off-loading 13,600 gallons (88,400 lb) of fuel.


Video Tour

Serial Number: 53-230
First Flight:
14 July 1951
June 1978
Crew: Pilot, copilot, navigator, flight engineer, radio operator, boom operator
Payload: 13,600 gal (88,400 lb) of transferable fuel; 65 troops or 49 stretchers and medevac supplies
Powerplant: 4x Pratt & Whitney R-4360-59 radials; 2x General Electric J47-GE-23 turbojets
117 ft 5 in
141 ft 2 in
38 ft 4 in
Empty Weight:
82,500 lbs
Loaded Weight:
153,000 lbs
Maximum Speed:
400 mph
Cruise Speed:
230 mph
Range: 2,300 mi
Service Ceiling: 30,000 ft
AMC Museum Restoration Crew Chief: Don Steinghagen

Assignment History

The assignment history for the Air Mobility Command Museum's KC-97L Stratofreighter, serial number 53-230:

Date Location
28 Jul 1955 to 384th Air Refueling Squadron (Medium) (Strategic Air Command), Westover AFB, MA
27 Apr 1956 Deployed to Ernest Harmon AB, Newfoundland
25 Jun 1957 Returned to Westover AFB, MA
31 Jul 1962 to 4050th Air Refueling Wing (SAC), Westover AFB, MA
1 Jan 1963 to 499th Air Refueling Wing (SAC), Westover AFB, MA
11 Oct 1963 Deployed to Lajes AB, Azores
2 Jan 1964 Returned to Westover AFB, MA
21 May 1964 to 134th Air Refueling Group (Tennessee ANG), McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, TN
21 Apr 1965 to Hayes Aircraft Corp., Birmingham, AL, for work
16 May 1965 Redesignated KC-97L
18 May 1965 to 134th Air Refueling Group (TNANG), McGhee Tyson Airport, Knoxville, TN
6 Aug 1976 to Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (AF Logistics Command), Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ
1 Oct 1976 Declared excess
11 Mar 1980 Dropped from the USAF inventory by transfer to museum or school
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First, I’m delighted to discover that on of our 11 Tennessee Air National Guard KC-97’s was tail number 53-230. Very happy to hear it did not get recycled at the boneyard and is now remains on duty at the Air Mobility Command Museum!

My father, SMSGT Dean L Gambill, was a flight engineer on KC-97’s from 1953 until 1976. Prior to the ’97, he was flight engineer on KB-29s and KB-50s. From 1952 to DEC 1957 Dad was stationed at Hunter AFB, Savannah, GA. From JAN 1958 to APR 1962, Dad was stationed at Randolph AFB, San Antonio, TX as chief of training for KC-97 flight engineers under Air Training Command. From APR 1962 to Apr 1964, Dad served as Air Force Advisor to the 160th Air Refueling Group of the Ohio Air National Guard. He retired from USAF in early 1964 and took an air technician position of Chief Flight Engineer to the 134th Air Refueling Group of the Tennessee Air National Guard. Once the KC-97s had been replaced by KC-135s, Dad retired for the second time in 1976.

I was fortunate enough to join the 134th Air Refueling Group in 1966 and trained as a boom operator. It was a unique opportunity to occasionally fly with my father on the same aircraft. When the 135s came along we were required to be reassigned from TAC to SAC. My civilian job did not allow me to move up to the 135 due to the duration of SAC sorties vs. TAC. So in 1976 I was transferred into the newly instituted SAC Command Post where I served as a SAC Command and Control Specialist until retirement in FEB 1987.

My time in the Tennessee Air National Guard has been the highlight of my working career.

I wonder if you or your dad knew Jim McDonald from the 134th 97 days. He was an engineer that later moved on to the C-141. He lives in the Charleston area now.

I regret I hadn’t seen your message until today. My Dad would likely have known Jim McDonald in his 97 days at McGhee Tyson airbase in the 151st Air Refueling Squadron/ 134th Air Refueling Group just outside of Knoxville, TN. I couldn’t have met Mr. McDonald as I did not join the Tennessee ANG until July, 1966. I hope he and my Dad were good friends during the time Mr McDonald was there.

My brother-in-law, Major John M. Nycum Jr. was a navigator on a KC-97 in the 50s and early 60s, and then on the KC-135s. I seem to remember him being at Sampson for basic and then Ellington, TX; Hunter, GA; Columbus, MS; and Wurtsmith, MI. Also, during TDY in Newfoundland and Spain. Pulling alert once a month, I believe…(My memory is not that good anymore..)

If it helps fill in the history of this aircraft (53-0230), I photographed it at Beale in October of 1982: https://flic.kr/p/rJKRDX

I enlisted in the U. S. Air Force in 1955. I went to Sampson Air Force Base for basic training. I wanted a flying job and they sent me
to Sheppard AFB, in Texas. Upon completion of tech school I was sent to the 384th AREFS at Westover AFB, Mass and was an air refueling
specialist, boom operator. Although the airplane our crew normally flew was not 0-30230, I did fly some missions on 230. My first
aircraft commander was a WWII veteran. After completing our refueling mission with a B-47 or a B-52, he would call the receiver and
tell them they were just refueled by the youngest boom operator in the Air Force. I had just turned eighteen I’ll bet that made them
nervous. I never had a problem on any mission. We went TDY to Harmon AFB several times, spring of 1956 and 1957. We went TDY to
Sonderstrom AFB, Greenland April 1958 and returned to Westover June 1958. I declined a nice reenlistment bonus and acceptance
to Air Cadets and pilot training to go to college. Our squadron had all KC-97G’s. What a wonderful experience for a boy who didn’t
know what he wanted to do. I ended up with 8000 hours as a civilian helicopter pilot.

I had a very similar experience, went to Sheppard in 1955 then in to Castle AFB and qualified for a combat crew, refueled a B-47 and B-52 just before my @18th birthday June 1, 1956. Went on to be an IBO at Randolph AFB then to Yokota AFB, Japan and refueled from KB-50’s —- was also offered a cadet appointment but chose college and retired as a school district assistant superintendent. Bill Whiteside

Hi Ted, We lived in Chicopee Falls off and on from 1953-1957. My dad was a pilot and he flew B-36’s Ellsworth AFB and KC-97 at Dow AFB, Bangor, Maine. He may have flown KC’s at Westover. We lived off base off the end of a runway. Dad was a B-17 pilot in WWII at Podington, England with 30 combat bombing missions 1944-45. He is deceased and retired from the USAF, LTC Donald Greene. Please contact me and we could discuss our times at Westover/Chicopee Falls area.
Steve Greene COL, USA (Ret.)

Vandenberg AFB had three KC-97’s. I worked on them as an AFSC 53150 machinist, 1963 through 1965. no memory of tail numbers. my unit was the 4392nd CAMS.

Flew KC97″D” 320 ARS March AFB, CA ’60-61 then converted VC 97 Vandenberg AFB 1sr Msl Div ’62. First trip VBG w/General Wade , then later Gen Preston. Several trips to Eniwetok for down range support and WX recon prior launch for Atlas tests , loved it crewed as airborne radio op