KC-135 Spotting Introduction

This pocket-sized guide provides quick access to 3-position silhouettes, detailed descriptions, and specifications to help you reach your objective when you enroll as a spotter and participate in the KC-135 Ground Tracking Network.

The KC-135 Ground Tracking Network’s main purpose is to generate an accessible database that studies and exposes the patterns of KC-135 aircraft activity and its effects. This network of like-minded researchers points eyes to the sky, recording and monitoring when others won’t. When you join the network as a dedicated KC-135 Spotter, your time and input will add to this critical online research forum.


An efficient spotter makes a complete study of the airplane. Your task as a spotter is simplified by the pursuit of only one type of airplane with specific recognition characteristics. As you begin spotting the KC-135, it is a good idea to start by practicing with models and pictures. Familiarize yourself with the aircraft, get active, join the forum and ask the more experienced spotters questions. Within a short period of time you will develop an almost instantaneous recognition ability for accurately identifying the KC-135 in flight.


KC-135 spotting is an outdoor activity where the aerosol exposure is greatest. Dress appropriately. Initial conditions may change and spread slowly so the best spotters watch and record throughout the entire day. Bring along this guide and a journal for taking notes. Pack your binoculars, tripod, and camera. Advanced spotters collect samples for analysis, explore the infrared at night, scan and record radio transmissions, or use remote control surveillance. These techniques require additional equipment, know-how, and materials. Go online to join the forum and ask about what type of gear and which spotting method is best for you.

Stay Positive

Non-spotters pay little attention to the sky. It's not unusual for the novice spotter to recognize this problem and feel discouraged. Try to remember that your attitude was similar before you became an active Ground Tracking Network member. If approached, be generous with your time and share what you see with the curious. You may find this leads to a new awareness and education for a future sky-monitor.

Clear Skies Often Change Quickly

Occasionally you may be overwhelmed by the amount of activity in your area. Clear skies can rapidly become full as if by magic. It's likely your viewing region is now 'hot'. Do the best you can and record what you see. Chances are other local spotters are out there observing and recording and will later help to fill in the gaps online in the forum.

Official Documentation

First-time KC-135 spotters often look for official records or call their local airport or military base. The reality is what seasoned spotters know from experience: spotting is important because public access to official documentation is not available. Instead, try to retrieve what information, if any, is publicly available for comparison with your observations. What's omitted can often provide clues or trails to follow as you collect data and perfect your spotting skills.

The Authorities

If your spotting activity draws the attention of the authorities, be polite but hold your ground. The sky is yours to observe. Know your rights and safeguard your data. The notes and photos you take may be the only citizen accessible spotter record available for that day, time, and place.

Bring Your Guide With You

Sometimes the best spotting opportunity occurs when you least expect it. Spotters often tell stories of ill-prepared errands or lunch breaks without binoculars or a notebook. Lost opportunities like these are often never recovered. Don't rely on other spotters to be there when you're not.

Become a Member

Enroll online to become an official KC-135 Ground Observer. As a member of this skywatch network your photographs, theories, and thoughts will be shared with other members in the forum. Corresponding and working together in this way focuses awareness, gathering information which can be studied online, in one location. Members enjoy critical feedback with special access to the forum and are eligible to receive a free embroidered patch through the mail.

Stay Up to Date

Check the website and forum often. This field of study is constantly changing. If possible, introduce yourself to other local spotters in your area and compare notes. Reports of other aircraft exhibiting similar operational activity, even non-military, have been observed. If this happens to you note any insignia and fuselage color, direction and time of flight, and method of injection and dispersal. Don't forget to share your findings with your fellow spotters on the forum.

What is the KC-135?

The first KC-135 took to the air in 1956. Built upon a modified Boeing 707 airframe it’s initial principal function was mid-air refueling. More than 400 KC-135s have been retrofitted with CFM engines and have an estimated off load capacity of 220,000 pounds of injectable liquid and semi-liquid cargo over a range of 1,500 miles. Although capable of higher altitudes the tankers normally operate at much lower altitudes below 33,000 ft.

Why the KC-135?

The KC-135 is the most commonly reported carrier and distributer. It’s very similar and often indistinguishable at a distance from other commercial passenger aircraft. Tracking this aircraft is the most productive use of available time and resources. Reports of other aircraft exhibiting similar behaviors have been reported. The network will keep pace with these developments and add planes to the spotter’s watch list as needed.

How does the Ground Tracking Network work?

The network’s main purpose is to record and monitor KC-135 activity through Cooperative Engagement. Members report their findings on the online forum. This way of working effectively replaces the cumbersome and now obsolete Central Operator and Citizens' Defense Corps.

I'm a beginner. How do I get started?

The Ground Tacking Network recommends following a 4-step process using the B.L.U.E. Sky method. First and most importantly you must BEGIN. Get involved and become an active observer. As you get out there and begin spotting, you may find you have to learn to really LOOK. Empty your mind of prejudices; learn to see what is actually there and then accept the information that presents itself. The mind will naturally resist what it perceives as impossible or unlikely. Try your best to fight against this and trust your senses. Doing so will lead to an UNDERSTANDing of why it’s important to be out there ‘under the trails’ recording and monitoring what you see. As this understanding develops you’ll require additional information to compliment what your eyes are telling you. Your membership gives you access to the forum where other members will point you towards the very latest developments and reading material. Participating brings the network closer to a full picture and finally EXPOSURE.

How much will it cost?

It’s free to join the KC-135 Ground Tracking Network. Equipment can be moderately priced to very expensive depending on what you’d like to be able to do. But any pair of binoculars will get you out there observing.

I want to remain anonymous. Can I?

Yes. But in order to receive your free embroidered patch you will have to provide a mailing address. PO boxes are acceptable.

Why is there a forum?

The forum is a place to discuss findings, opinions, and ask questions. The forum is divided into various and expanding topics such as:

Emerging Technologies, Radio Monitoring, Command & Control, Sensors & Processing, Sample Analysis, Identification, Black Line Phenomena, Operational Patterns, Global Operational Patterns, Surveillance & Engagement, Airplane Logo & Registration, Airplane Color, Biological and Cognitive Technology, Microwave & Radar, Military Misc., Weather & Climate, Health & Related Illness, Air Traffic Control, Swarm Intelligence

Is the forum moderated?

Yes. The forum will be closely monitored and abusive or hostile entries will be removed and the offender banned.

As a sky-monitor will I be monitored in return?

Spotting is a low-risk, high-reward endeavor. While some people will always be reluctant to get involved, fear or intimidation is something that can be overcome.

My friends and family don’t understand and make fun of me. Does this happen to everyone?

Ridicule is a common and predictable reaction. People generally like to avoid feeling uncomfortable and will often attack the messenger. Remember that you can’t always take everyone with you as a truth seeker.

I don’t have a lot of spare time. How much time do I have to devote to my spotting?

It’s understood that even if you adopt the B.L.U.E. Sky routine you will go at your own pace and work your way into this pursuit. Even the most accomplished spotters started out this way. Give what you can. Even the smallest input is valuable.

> Back to KC-135 GTN

© brennan mcgaffey