KC-135 Caught Refueling C-5 Galaxy in Mid-Air in Google Earth!

KC-135 Refueling C-5 Galaxy in Mid-air in Google EarthYesterday, someone was looking around at Lava Fields in northern California, and came up with his first discovery of a plane in flight. Only, this one was a really BIG find: a KC-135 refueling a C-5 Galaxy in mid-air! It was posted by someone called “Helomech” at the Google Earth Community (GEC). This is a fantastic find and is on a par with the Lancaster bomber found flying in the UK. The refueling shot is a satellite photo. The “blue ghost” double image is actually an artifact of the satellite photo and is due to the motion of the two planes. In fact, if you look closely at cars on highways in satellite photos, you will sometimes see these ghost images for those moving objects as well. The distance of the ghosts from the actual objects is an indicator of speed.
Those of you who…

Those of you who are regular readers know one of my Google Earth hobbies is to look for aerial or satellite photos which have captured planes in flight. There are actually a number of people at the Google Earth Community who share this hobby, and there is a “database” of placemarks which show all of the planes in flight found to date. The placemark collection is constantly changing because Google updates the imagery database on a regular basis. If you find a plane in flight (or planes), you should check first to see if its already in the database. Here is a network link for the database of all the known planes in flight around the world.
[NOTE: someone just pointed out to me a farmer has cut out “USA BUSH” in giant letters in a corn field just to the northwest of these two planes. See it here. You’ll need to have “historical imagery” turned on to see the letters]

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. I like the airport at Frankfurt Germany, as for some reason there are 3 Luftansa 747s taking off almost in some sort of a formation. You can see them (and their shadows) just to the east of the main runway (at least on maps.google.com).

  2. I took a look at those planes at Frankfurt International, and something very weird is happening there… I think they may all be the same plane.
    Check out the traffic below the middle plane. The shadow indicates the sun is in the south west.
    Notice the shadows of each of the three planes (which are north and slightly east of the planes). You can’t see a shadow for the eastern-most plane (maybe the plane has gained enough altitude to lose its shadow, or its the terrain). The shadow for the middle plane is hard to see, its not on flat surface, but it is there. The western-most plane has the most distinct shadow.
    But if you keep looking west, there are 2 more shadows of planes… and there’s nothing there making these shadows! (its either that… or, if the 1st shadow is the first plane’s shadow, then those shadows indicate that the sun is in the north east… which is the opposite of what the traffic’s shadows tell us.)
    I think maybe this planet could be an imposter!

  3. I haven’t seen an airplane on Google Earth before, but isn’t it weird that the shadow of the airplane seems to be over the airplane itself? Look closely, specially at the shadow of the tail section.

  4. umm… Sinan… read the story.

  5. cm and andrew: the plane(s) in Frankfurt, Germany are a differnt kind of aerial photo artifact. In this case, the same plane is captured several times because of the scanning process. The plane is faster than the photo capture so it gets captured several times. In one case, the composite image is missing the shadow of the plane (because the plane was gone before that portion of the photo was taken).

  6. I saw a similar view (from the ground) two weeks ago when my Wife and I were camping near this location. I commented to her about the two planes mating.

  7. The photo of the north runway at London’s Heathrow airport shows the sample multiple-plane effect very clearly.

  8. CrewRest says

    Normally Air Refueling is conducted at an altitude around 27000. In the shot of the KC-135 and C-5 you still see the aircraft when you get down to around 6000 feet. I have no doubt that this is a photo of an inflight refueling, but why the anomaly?

  9. CrewRest – all the aerial/satellite photos are 2D pictures mapped onto the Google Earth terrain. Although the planes were at altitude, they are not 3D so the image is mapped at the same height as the ground.

  10. So far I’ve found a small plane over the water in Southern California, a U-2 over the runway up north and a heliocopter over the ocean down south. This is the neatest tool I’ve ever used. If anybody wants to see the planes I found, post back. It would seem to be more fun to look by yourself than just be told where they are exactly.

  11. I have the latest version of GE, according to the “check for updates” feature in Help, and the image I have of that is incredibly blurry. Are you using a professional version or something?
    (silly antispam, a is A)

  12. In this case, I chose to process the screenshot image to sharpen it a bit (because
    of the blurriness). So, my image of the scene was also blurry when viewed this close.
    All versions of Google Earth (even the Pro version) use the same data set. So, you
    get the best images Google has available with the free version.

  13. Re: “blue ghost”
    I wonder about the explanation above. Why would the ghost be *ahead* of the plane if it is an artifact of its motion? Note that this shot was taken over water (Tule Lake), could the “ghost” really be a reflection of the planes off the water surface? Just food for thought.

  14. Does anyone know about how close we are to getting real time images or at least within the past couple of days old?

  15. Very nice… those who want can also see a plane leaving Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I think it’s an A320, from TAM airlines, at 23d 38’46.59″ S 46d 38’34.49″ W. Enjoy it.

  16. Checkout: 34deg 56′ 59.42″N / 115deg 15′ 41.31″W
    Jet Fighter?

  17. I just found this myself. I’m a nature photographer, and I shoot at Tule Lake a lot. I thought it might be a relic of WWI or something, since the area has a lot of history. It’s too small for scale though.

  18. P R Ganapathy says

    I first thought it was a hoax (I don’t even know if that’s possible), so I measured the lat/long of the nose and tail of the C-5A and calculated the distance – the result I got was 79.4 meters, and the actual length of a C-5A is 75.3 – close enough!

  19. P R Ganapathy says

    The Jet Fighter is 20.2 meters long, consistent with what a jet fighter could be – it is also in the vicinity of Edwards AFB.

  20. Jim G: Jet fighters haven’t had straight wings since the ME 262.
    It appears to be a 4 engine cargo plane to me, possibly a C-130.

  21. On Friday July 6th while sitting in my brother-in-laws yard in Columbia, Connecticut with in an hour till dusk we heard the kids screaming, “Look, their glued together.” Sure enough it looked like two passenger airliners stuck together. Many adults commented they were making little planes, lol. Well, the kids and I would like someone to shed some light on this for us. Was this a refuling? Do they do this over residential areas?

  22. It’s a C-5 (probably a B-model)behind a KC-135 in precontact position southbound on AR-7A between FL240 – FL310. Probably FL250 (25,000′)
    Air Refueling Track 7A is a standard air refueling track that runs from central Oregon to north of Sacremento. AR7A runs southbound … AR7B its mirror is offset about 50nm to the west and runs northbound. It is the primary AR training track for Travis AFB based C-5Bs.
    If you go look at the Travis AFB in Fairfield, CA to the south you will find 9 C-5s … 12 KC-10s … a lone transit C-130 … and on the other side of the base across runways 21R and 21L on a hardstand is the west coast alert E6B TACAMO. TACAMO provides US Navy with backup ELF communications for the balistic missile sub fleet.

  23. 33°57’54.50″N 79° 6’22.42″W I went to a flight school that is a little over 9 miles to the south south-west. It’s a Cessna 152 that is flying over our practice area. I wish I could see the tail number.

  24. Its not a fighter, I would say its a lear jet.

  25. Look at 38.913516N 91.031955W for a jet on probable approach to Lambert Field in St. Louis.

  26. Hey all, new to the blog but seriously intrigued with GE. I love to fly, had a C-152 25 years ago. Retired now and able to spend my time doing anything I like. I land travel and also metal detect with a fever. I spend endless hours on GE.
    I have a question though. The areas that have large blocks that are of different colors, are these edited areas? How much IS edited? Some areas can be zoomed close enough to read signs and some are very poor, in comparison.

  27. RE: Different colo’u’red blocks.
    Not all the photography of an area is done on one day, possibly only a small section at a time (150km in length) they can be taken at different times of day, this is how you get the different light levels and the ‘change’ of colour.
    As for the more detailed areas, the only highly detailed areas are the ones with high population. To save costs they probably don’t bother capturing sections that they think people won’t look at.
    And of course, if you are into conspiracies then they could be hiding stuff from us…you never know.

  28. I just checked the kmz and I don’t see planes there. Have they been removed?

  29. @ Harshad – You need to use the historic imagery, and go back to 2004 to see the planes. Click on the historic date button at the bottom of the picture, then use the slider to go back to 10/6/2004.

  30. I think the planes in formation “departing” Frankfurt are A-340’s, since Lufthansa flies them. They look similar to a 747 due to the 4 engines and size. I saw that image years ago and thought it was part of an airshow. Or possibly a show of force toward the other nations airlines operating there. 😉 Perhapd at the Dubai or Paris airshow one would see the real thing. I was wondering how they would avoid wake turbulence at such a close distance unless the wind was blowing hard and in the right direction, and they were at varying altitudes. The mutli-image explaination makes sense- I couldn’t figure out the shadows, either.

  31. This photo is a fake. God, why do people waste other people’s time doing stuff like this? Don’t tell me it isn’t fake. I flew C5 Galaxies for 25 years. The markings, paint scheme and color, as well as the antiglare panel are wrong, as well as the color of paint. If you go to the trouble of doing something like this, at least do your homework.

  32. the only highly detailed areas are the ones with high population. To save costs they probably don’t bother capturing sections that they think

  33. I live in nh they have a ng kc135 fleet
    Just saw a kc refueling a galaxy
    So weird the kc looked TINY
    My dad flew so I had interest !

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.