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KA-3B / EKA-3B

The KA-3B was similar to A-3A aircraft except modified to a tanker capability. The EKA-3B was a Model A-3B aircraft configured for the TACOS (Tanker Aircraft/Countermeasures or Strike) mission.

Early in the Second World War, the Navy began to explore the concept of a jet powered aircraft operating from carriers. Success encouraged further development of the concept, and early in the post war years the Navy began to consider jet power as a possible means of operating from carriers, aircraft that were large enough to provide a strategic bombing capability. In January 1948, the Chief of Naval Operations issued a requirement to develop a long range, carrierbased attack plane that could deliver a 10,000 pound bomb load. The contract which the Navy awarded to the Douglas Aircraft Company on 29 September 1949 led to the development and production of the A3D Skywarrior. Unusually large for a carrier-based aircraft, the A3D quickly earned the nickname Whale.

The best aerial tanker the Navy ever had was a modification of the Douglas A3D (after 1962, A-3) attack plane that could lift an offload of 3,350 gallons, or 21,775 pounds. The Navy did its own refueling with Douglas KA-3 tankers and later with Grumman KA-6 tankers. The KA-3 could deliever 29,000 lb of fuel at 460 miles, about 2.2 full F4J tanks. The KA-6 only delivered half as much fuel, and the S-3 carried even less. Strike forces launched from aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin were accompanied by tankers for a final refueling before they went to the target. Tankers were held in standby orbits for attackers returning from the target, and a tanker was always in orbit over the aircraft carrier in the event a returning airplane, almost out of fuel, missed its "trap" and had to circle for a second attempt at landing.

On April 31, 1967, a classic KC-135/Navy refueling occurred over the Gulf of Tonkin, where a KC-135 was stationed to serve F-104s providing cover for an ongoing air strike against the Hanoi-Haiphong area. The F-104 was a probe-equipped aircraft, so the KC-135 trailed a boom-drogue adapter. In a saga of aerial refueling, this KC-135 replenished two Navy KA-3 tankers, two Navy F-8s, and two F-4s returning from the strike, in addition to its F-104s. While it was pumping fuel to one of the KA-3s, the F-8 fighters came on the scene, desperate for fuel. The KA-3 reeled out its hose for them. For a few minutes a K-135 was refueling a KA-3, which at the same time was refueling F-8s-a trilevel refueling.

Its heyday was 1959 to 1969, including service in the war in Southeast Asia, but after retirement of the A3Ds, the offload capabilities of Navy tankers declined. Normally in Vietnam operations, aircraft carrier planners found it necessary to put two KA-3/KA-6 tankers aloft per cycle, "dispensing maximum" fuel to launching Phantom IIs, then "consolidating" the two tankers; one then landed, short cycling, and the other full cycled.

And as the last decade of the century began, the KA-3 and EA-3 soldiered on as tankers and electronic warfare aircraft. In spite of Navy KA-6 and KS-3 tankers flying more than 1,000 refueling sorties during the Persian Gulf War, Navy airplanes depended on Air Force KC-135s for refueling. Somewhat more than 30 percent of the KC-135 aerial refueling in that war was performed on behalf of the U.S. Navy.

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