Posts Tagged ‘Stratotanker’

Overhauling the KC-135 Tanker

March 8, 2009

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It’s looking like the KC-135 fleet will need an expensive re-skinning circa 2018, says Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Art Lichte. The projection was actually made in 2000 by an independent study of airlifter longevity, but the study has proved remarkably prescient, he noted and added that the prediction still looks valid. As it is, the KC-135s need a $7 million depot maintenance every five years, but the cost and complexity of each visit is growing significantly, Air Force Magazine quotes Lichte. The re-skinning would be a “major re-build” and wouldn’t buy very much in terms of extra years of use, since other aspects of the aircraft would still be Eisenhower vintage. Stepping up the pace at which the new KC-X tanker is bought would diminish the number of re-skins necessary, but Lichte restated the Pentagon’s position that buying two different tankers at once—the only way to skip the re-skins entirely since the more aircraft would be available sooner—is unaffordable, reports Air Force Magazine.

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Air Mobility Command officials set all-time sortie record

December 14, 2008
C-17 Globemaster III

C-17 Globemaster III

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Officials from Air Mobility Command’s 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott AFB set a new record for the number of sorties planned in a 24-hour period in November.

The new mark, set at 1,063 sorties, toppled the previous high of 1,051 set in February of 2008. 

Members of the 618th TACC are the execution arm for global airlift, air refueling and aeromedical evacuation operations. An AMC sortie is a single point-to-point flight by an aircraft under AMC operational control performing a warfighting, exercise, contingency or aeromedical evacuation requirement for the U.S. Transportation Command.

While the record is a significant marker, planning hundreds of missions daily is business as usual for the 618th TACC staff.

“We plan missions, resource the crews and the aircraft, task the missions to the wings and command and control the missions from here,” said Maj. Gen. Mark S. Solo, the 618th TACC commander.

Approximately 80 percent of the planned sorties go into full execution, General Solo said. Weather issues and maintenance can impact aircraft availability, which impacts the ability of the crew to perform the sortie. 

The enemy also gets a vote, he said.

On an average day the center staff plans or monitors about 900 sorties that support a range of requirements from personnel, cargo transport, air-to-air refueling, aeromedial evacuation and training.

“We’re here 24 hours a day, 366 days on a leap year giving our military global reach capability,” the general said. “If a military commander needs an asset or capability and the best route to get it to them is by air, it’s TACC’s job to fulfill that need.”

Members of the 618th TACC planned and coordinated more than 453,000 sorties in support of the war on terrorism, including personnel and cargo transport, air-to-air refueling and aeromedical evacuation missions. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the center’s efforts have moved 7.5 million passengers and 3.2 million tons of cargo, passed 1.1 billion gallons of fuel via air-to-air refueling and performed more than 121,000 patient movements for war on terrorism operations.

If required, the 618th TACC staff’s coordination efforts can seamlessly redirect missions to support humanitarian operations. Following hurricanes Ike and Gustav this summer, 618th TACC-directed sorties delivered 1379 tons of supplies and transported 9,045 residents to safety. Officials from the 618th TACC also made it possible in August to deliver 587 tons in humanitarian relief to residents displaced by fighting in the Republic of Georgia.

“An AMC mission takes off every 90 seconds from locations all around the world,” General Solo said. “Whether it’s evacuating injured troops, delivering supplies to our forces on the ground, performing humanitarian operations or providing air-to-air refueling, the 618th TACC plays a key role in our military’s operations every day.” 

Justin Brockhoff (AFNS)

New “Sock” To Keep KC-135 Tanker Aircraft Cool

September 14, 2008

An F-15 Eagle fighter jet refuels from a KC-135 Stratotanker. Visit The PatriArt Gallery to purchase this image as a poster, framed art print, 12-month calendar, or greeting card set.

Aircrews operating KC-135 Stratotankers in hot climates may soon have a safer way to keep their flight decks cool thanks to the Air Mobility Battlelab’s KC-135 Hot Weather Cooling Sock initiative.

“This initiative addresses a current problem where aircraft maintainers use a standard flexible duct connected to an air conditioning cart to cool the KC-135 flight deck while the aircraft is on the ground in hot climates,” said Master Sgt. Eric Allain, the Air Mobility Battlelab, or AMB, project manager on the initiative. “The duct runs through the same opening aircrew and maintenance personnel use to enter and exit the aircraft, which impairs quick egress in emergency situations. In addition, the duct prevents closure of a hatch in the flight deck floor, which creates a fall hazard for personnel working in the cockpit.”

Enter the 161st Air Refueling Wing at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., who came up with a proposed solution – a lightweight, flexible, canvas tube, or “sock,” small enough to run behind the aircraft’s crew entry ladder. This keeps it out of the way of personnel entering and exiting the aircraft during ground cooling operations, Sergeant Allain said. “This installation will also allow the crew entry gate to fully close, eliminating potential tripping hazards and other safety concerns,” he said.

The AMB learned of the 161st’s idea, and decided to conduct a formal demonstration to get the concept in front of Air Mobility Command leadership and other KC-135 units.

“The 161st ARW parachute shop took a commercially-made canvas acrylic fabric and sewed it into a cylindrical hose approximately 15- to 16-feet long with an air sealing web nylon cinch belt,” Sergeant Allain said. “There are buckle tie-downs on one end of the sock connecting it to a standard flexible duct and four strap webbings with a spring buckle on the other end to tie it down to the ladder. When the sock is completely rolled up, it’s approximately the size of a small sleeping bag.”

The shop fabricated the cooling sock at a cost of $78 in parts and four and a half hours of labor, Sergeant Allain said.

“We then went to work on assessing how well it would cool a flight deck down in the Arizona sun,” Sergeant Allain said.

During the demonstration held in June, they completed five objectives. First, they determined if the cooling sock could cool the flight deck during ground operations to a level comparable to the standard duct. Next, they verified the cooling sock allowed obstruction-free entry and egress and complete closure of the flight deck crew entry hatch during ground cooling operations. And, lastly, they checked to see if the cooling sock material met relevant specifications and assessed whether the sock would impart excessive forces on the crew access ladder mounting hardware.

“The cooling sock met all of our objectives, and I commend the 161st parachute shop for building a great end product,” Sergeant Allain said. “The idea for a sock like this has implications for heating operations in a cold weather climate as well, but we’ll have to look into using a different material for heating. Overall, it was a very successful demonstration.”

The air temperature on the ramp at Phoenix was 110 degrees Fahrenheit the day of the demonstration, and the temperature in the cockpit was over 126 degrees before air conditioning was applied. The cooling sock was able to bring the average cockpit temperature down to 84 degrees during the demonstration.

In his recommendation to Air Mobility Command, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lathrop, AMB commander, urged the command to explore finding a suitable material for both heating and cooling, and then field the sock for the Air Force’s KC-135 fleet.

“Cooling the cockpit is not just a crew comfort item; it’s vital for the proper operation and longevity of sensitive electronics in the flight deck,” Colonel Lathrop said. “The 161st came up with a great design that gets the job done while eliminating multiple safety hazards. It has implications across the KC 135 tanker fleet.”

The Air Mobility Battlelab was established in 2001 to identify and demonstrate the utility of innovative concepts with potential to enhance Mobility Air Force capabilities. The AMB deactivates on Sept. 24 as part of an Air Force cost-savings initiative.

Scott T. Sturkol

USAF Makes Night-Refueling Safer

August 23, 2008

Teaming with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Night Vision Center of Excellence of Mesa, Ariz., the Air Mobility Battlelab saw a way to aid Stratotanker aircrews to see in the dark through the KC-135 Exterior Night Vision Imaging System-compatible Lighting initiative.

“The tanker’s exterior lighting is not currently compatible with night vision goggle operations which limits the receiver’s ability to use their night vision systems during air refueling operations,” said Master Sgt. Chris Sidoli, the AMB’s project manager for the initiative and a career boom operator in both the KC-135 and the KC-10 Extender. “Our solution is simple – modify tanker aircraft with night vision-friendly exterior lighting and night vision-compatible interior lighting for the boom pod. This can have an immediate impact for our tanker forces in the deployed theater.”

In working with AFRL’s Night Vision Center, a light-emitting diode, or LED-based system was designed to replace the KC-135’s wing and tail navigation lights, boom nozzle light, upper and lower strobes and pilot director lights without any internal aircraft wiring changes. Inside the boom operator compartment at the tail of the plane, night vision-friendly LED flood lights were added and some cockpit and boom pod switches were replaced to facilitate multi-mode operations.

“The idea is to make air refueling at night safer,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “Right now, during night-time air refueling operations in ‘black-out’ conditions, pilots in aircraft receiving fuel have to remove their night vision goggles prior to an air refueling to prevent required visual references from being ‘washed out’ or obscured in the night vision goggle image. Also, current external lighting on the aircraft is easily detected by ground threats using the unaided eye. Correcting these deficiencies has a direct impact on mission accomplishment and safety in flight.”

A demonstration with the modifications on a KC-135 was held in August 2007 out of Phoenix Sky International Airport, Ariz., with KC-135s from the 161st Air Refueling Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard.

“In setting this up, we looked for low cost, commercial and government off-the-shelf lighting technology to make the KC-135 exterior and boom pod interior lighting selectively night vision-compatible yet undetectable to the unaided eye,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “Then the AFRL stepped in and designed and installed the lighting solutions. To save time and cost, and to decrease risk, lighting luminance assessments were done in a controlled laboratory environment prior to hardware installation on the KC-135 used for the demonstration.”

Once the aircraft was configured with applicable lighting for each phase of the demonstration, Sergeant Sidoli said lighting luminance assessments were conducted in a light-tightened hangar that was as fully darkened as conditions would allow and served as a controlled environment.

Throughout the demonstration, they completed objectives on lighting for the pilot director indicator and boom nozzle, boom pod interior, wing tip and navigation lights and upper and lower strobe lights.

“Overall, the demonstration proved the changes could work,” Sergeant Sidoli said. “This initiative showed that a low-cost night vision lighting alternative is out there and is feasible. We found that a night vision lighting system can eliminate the time necessary for receiver pilots to don or doff their night vision equipment while performing night-time air refueling operations. This is an improved capability when compared to the current operations in the field.”

Further flight testing of the equipment that was designed and developed by AFRL may be required, however Lt. Col. Jeffrey Lathrop, AMB commander, has recommended this initiative for fielding.

“The National Guard Bureau and other agencies are pursuing funding to accomplish flight and environmental testing on the night vision lighting system,” Colonel Lathrop said. “It is AMB’s recommendation this initiative be considered for fielding by Air Mobility Command as resources allow and requirements dictate.”

The Air Mobility Battlelab was established in 2001 to identify and demonstrate the utility of innovative concepts with potential to enhance Mobility Air Force capabilities. AMB will deactivate in September 2008 as part of an Air Force cost-savings initiative.

 

Scott Sturkol