Academy 1/144 KC-135R Stratotanker

KIT #: 12638
PRICE: $16.97 plus $14 shipping from China
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: 2024 release


The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a military aerial refueling aircraft. It and the Boeing 707 airliner were developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype. It is the predominant variant of the C-135 Stratolifter family of transport aircraft. The KC-135 was the US Air Force's first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratofreighter. The KC-135 was initially tasked with refueling strategic bombers, but was used extensively in the Vietnam War and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.

The KC-135 entered service with the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1957; it is one of six military fixed-wing aircraft with over 50 years of continuous service with its original operator. The KC-135 is supplemented by the larger KC-10. Studies have concluded that many of the aircraft could be flown until 2040, although maintenance costs have greatly increased. The aircraft will eventually be replaced by the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus.

The KC-135R is the result of a second engine modification program which retrofitted 500 aircraft with new CFM International CFM56 (military designation: F108) high-bypass turbofan engines produced by General Electric and Snecma. The CFM56 engine produces approximately 22,500 lbf (100 kN) of thrust, nearly a 100% increase compared to the original J-57 engine. The modified tanker, designated KC-135R (modified KC-135A or E) or KC-135T (modified KC-135Q), can offload up to 50% more fuel (on a long-duration sortie), is 25% more fuel-efficient, and costs 25% less to operate than with the previous engines. It is also significantly quieter than the KC-135A, with noise levels at takeoff reduced from 126 to 99 decibels.

Many of you know by now that Minicraft is no longer in business. It is no surprise that the company that actually developed many of their kits, Academy, have started releasing their kits in their own boxes. When this occurred, the retail price of the kits have been considerably reduced, making them more appealing to modelers. I wanted to see if Academy made any improvements to the kits. One thing I can tell you is that they have not. The plastic is exactly the same, which is a shame as Minicraft hosed the shape of the aft cockpit windows and I was hoping Academy would have taken the opportunity to correct this. Still, a reduction in price from the $45 SRP Minicraft was asking to the $16.97 plus shipping I paid for this one is a major plus.

As mentioned, this is identical in terms of plastic and decals to the Minicraft boxing so let's review. Looking over the sprues, I was impressed by the detail work. The engraved lines are crisply done and though perhaps a bit overstated, and the kit has included the rear fuselage external reinforcement bands. Not surprisingly, there is no cockpit at all. The only thing to put into the fuselage halves before joining them is a half ounce of weight and the nose gear well. It appears that one cannot install the nose gear strut after the fact so that will have to be added prior to closing the halves. At this time, the cockpit transparency is added.

The instructions then would have you attach the upper and lower wing halves, and then put those as well as the tailplanes and the HF antenna on the fin tip onto the fuselage before going any further in the build. Some of us might light to attach the built up engines first, but it seems that either way will work.

Engines are nicely done with eight pieces per engine. The front of the cowling attaches along an extant panel line and something I like is that it includes a sleeve so you won't see a cowling seam between the forward section and the fan. One will need to do some prepainting and masking on each of these, but the instructions provide information on the shades required.

When building the main gear and completing the wells, you are provided three color options for the ballast tank in the main gear well. One will also have to fold the outer main gear doors and a diagram is provided to show how that is done. If one wants to model the plane gear up, there are instructions for that as well. A neat touch is the inclusion of a tail prop, something that is often seen on fully loaded 135s.

A nice addition to this kit are a pair of wing tip pods. These are not always carried so it is nice to have a choice in this regard. One also ha to do a bit of trimming to attach the APU exhaust port, which fits within the fuselage reinforcement bands.

Instructions are nicely done and offer paint references for a number of brands. The two markings options are overall AMC grey with a black radome and nose anti-glare panel. Markings are provided for two planes. The box art plane is from McConnell AFB in Kansas with the 22nd ARW in 2013. This seems to have the current tail band. The other is from the 126 ARW, Illinois ANG from nearby Scott AFB in 2005. It has the older tail band and unfortunately, does not include any of the nose art that was so prominent at the time. Decals are nicely done, but I'm wondering if the fuselage alignment stripe is not too orange. I always thought this was closer to yellow. I've included a photo so you can judge for yourself. As I mentioned earlier, there are aftermarket sheets for this kit with Caracal recently reissuing their 135R sheet.


I've built both this kit and the newer Roden version. They both have their pluses and minuses and neither are particularly simple to build. In many respects, the Roden kit gets the shape of the engine intakes better, though has engraved fuselage reinforcements and doesn't have the two rear fuselage intakes standing proud as on the real deal. It is a tossup but if you are saving pennies, this one might well be the best choice.

Below is an image of the Roden and Academy/Minicraft kit side by side with the Roden kit on the left.



May 2024

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