C-130 vs. KC-137

What's the Difference?

The C-130 and KC-137 are both military aircraft with distinct roles and capabilities. The C-130, also known as the Hercules, is a versatile tactical transport aircraft primarily used for cargo and troop transport, as well as aerial refueling, search and rescue missions, and humanitarian aid operations. It has a rugged design, short takeoff and landing capabilities, and can operate in various terrains and weather conditions. On the other hand, the KC-137, also known as the Stratoliner, is a modified version of the Boeing 707 commercial airliner, specifically designed for aerial refueling operations. It features a larger fuel capacity, advanced refueling systems, and can support long-range missions. While the C-130 is more versatile and adaptable for different mission types, the KC-137 excels in providing extended aerial refueling capabilities for military aircraft.


ManufacturerLockheed MartinBoeing
RoleTactical transport aircraftAirborne refueling tanker
First FlightAugust 23, 1954May 28, 1962
Primary UsersUnited States Air Force and many othersVarious air forces around the world
Number BuiltOver 2,500Approximately 60
Unit CostApproximately $30 millionVaries depending on configuration
EngineFour Allison T56-A-15 turbopropsFour Pratt & Whitney JT8D-217C turbofans
Max Speed366 knots (417 mph, 671 km/h)530 knots (610 mph, 982 km/h)
Range2,050 nautical miles (2,360 mi, 3,800 km)4,200 nautical miles (4,830 mi, 7,780 km)

Further Detail


The C-130 and KC-137 are two prominent military aircraft that have played significant roles in various operations around the world. While both aircraft serve different purposes, they share some similarities in terms of design and capabilities. In this article, we will explore the attributes of the C-130 and KC-137, highlighting their key features, performance, and roles in military operations.

C-130 Hercules

The C-130 Hercules is a versatile military transport aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin. It has been in service since the 1950s and has undergone several upgrades to enhance its capabilities. The C-130 is known for its exceptional performance in various missions, including airlift, cargo delivery, aerial refueling, and humanitarian operations.

One of the key attributes of the C-130 is its impressive payload capacity. It can carry up to 42,000 pounds of cargo or 92 fully equipped troops. This makes it an ideal choice for transporting personnel, equipment, and supplies to remote locations. Additionally, the C-130 can operate from short and unprepared runways, allowing it to access areas that are inaccessible to many other aircraft.

The C-130 is also equipped with advanced avionics and navigation systems, enabling it to operate in various weather conditions and at night. Its robust design and powerful engines provide it with excellent maneuverability and the ability to perform tactical operations such as low-level flying and airdrops.

Furthermore, the C-130 can be modified for specialized missions, including aerial firefighting, search and rescue, and electronic warfare. Its versatility and adaptability have made it a reliable workhorse for military forces around the world.

KC-137 Stratoliner

The KC-137 Stratoliner, also known as the Boeing 707, is a military variant of the popular commercial airliner. It was primarily developed for aerial refueling and transportation of personnel and cargo. The KC-137 has been extensively used by various air forces, including the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

One of the notable attributes of the KC-137 is its long-range capability. It can cover vast distances without the need for refueling, making it suitable for strategic airlift and global operations. The aircraft is equipped with advanced fuel systems and additional tanks, allowing it to carry a significant amount of fuel for extended missions.

The KC-137 also features a spacious cargo hold, capable of accommodating large amounts of cargo or personnel. It has a maximum payload capacity of approximately 100,000 pounds, making it suitable for transporting heavy equipment and supplies. Additionally, the aircraft can be configured to carry passengers, providing comfortable seating arrangements for long-haul flights.

Moreover, the KC-137 is equipped with advanced aerial refueling systems, enabling it to refuel other aircraft in mid-air. This capability is crucial for extending the range and endurance of fighter jets and other military aircraft during missions. The KC-137's ability to refuel multiple aircraft simultaneously further enhances its efficiency and effectiveness in supporting air operations.


While the C-130 and KC-137 serve different purposes, they share some common attributes. Both aircraft have exceptional payload capacities, allowing them to transport significant amounts of cargo or personnel. They are also equipped with advanced avionics and navigation systems, enabling them to operate in various weather conditions and perform tactical missions.

However, there are notable differences between the two aircraft. The C-130 is specifically designed for tactical airlift and can operate from short and unprepared runways. Its versatility and ability to access remote locations make it an invaluable asset for military forces engaged in missions that require rapid deployment and resupply.

On the other hand, the KC-137 is primarily designed for strategic airlift and aerial refueling. Its long-range capability and ability to refuel other aircraft in mid-air make it an essential asset for global operations and supporting air superiority. The KC-137's spacious cargo hold and passenger seating arrangements further enhance its versatility and suitability for long-haul missions.

In terms of size, the C-130 is generally smaller than the KC-137. The C-130 has a wingspan of approximately 132 feet and a length of around 97 feet. In comparison, the KC-137 has a wingspan of approximately 146 feet and a length of around 152 feet. The size difference reflects their respective roles and capabilities.

Another significant difference is the number of engines. The C-130 typically has four turboprop engines, providing it with excellent short takeoff and landing capabilities. In contrast, the KC-137 usually has four jet engines, enabling it to achieve higher speeds and altitudes.


In conclusion, the C-130 and KC-137 are two remarkable military aircraft that have proven their worth in various operations. While the C-130 excels in tactical airlift and versatility, the KC-137 shines in strategic airlift and aerial refueling. Both aircraft possess unique attributes that make them indispensable assets for military forces around the world. Whether it's delivering supplies to remote locations or extending the range of fighter jets, the C-130 and KC-137 play vital roles in supporting military operations and ensuring global security.

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