KC-135 fleet receives upgrade

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — The KC-135 Stratotanker fleet is receiving its third major avionics upgrade with Block 45, which modernizes key features of the aircraft.

The upgrade converts the aircraft flight deck from analog to digital, with a new engine instrument display, radio altimeter, flight director and autopilot. 

This capability significantly improves reliability and maintainability, reduces maintenance actions and increases aircrew situational awareness.

The $910 million program is managed by the Legacy Tanker Division at Tinker Air Force Base, which reports to the Tanker Directorate within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Col Martin O’Grady, Legacy Tanker Division chief, said the upgrade is important because it reduces equipment failures and promotes operational efficiency.

“The modification to the KC-135 is important for several reasons,” said O’Grady. “The upgrade allows for more efficient air traffic management activities, improves system safety by creating key system redundancy, and reduces the logistics footprint with utilization of more reliable avionics components.” 

O’Grady said the program has truly been a team effort.

“This is a program with multi-organization stakeholders including Air Mobility Command, Edwards Air Force Base, and our industry partner Rockwell Collins,” said O’Grady. “Without stakeholder collaboration, we would not have been successful.”

Modification of the 400 KC-135s began in 2014 and is scheduled to complete in 2025.

The KC-135 provides the core aerial refueling capability for the United States Air Force in support of world-wide missions and has been operating for more than 50 years.

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