Derived from the DC-10, the KC-10A has supported every major conflict involving US forces since entering service in 1981. As Dr Kevin Wright explains, the Extender has been vital to US force projection for nearly 40 years, while DC-10-based tankers have also served others users.
During the 1970s US airlift and tanker resources became increasingly overstretched and the USAF sought an Advanced Tanker Cargo Aircraft that could carry freight and/or passengers and refuel other aircraft in flight. Versions of Boeing’s 747 and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 wide-bodied passenger jet were offered. The latter company’s bid won with an initial contract for 12 KC-10A Extenders awarded on December 19, 1977 and a first flight on July 12, 1980.