New Tanker Remains Air Force's No. 1 Procurement Priority
One of the last of the KC-135E Stratotankers to retire made its
final flight Sept. 28 to Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and after
more than 50 years of service, tail number 56-1503 will be
relegated to a life as one of several planes used for aircraft
maintenance training on the base.
KC 135E File Photo
This KC-135E was built in 1956 and was one of 161 KC-135Es that
once were in the Air Force fleet. Today's Airmen keep the current
Air Force fleet of 415 KC-135Rs flying until they will be replaced
in the decades to come. The KC-135E also brings to light the Air
Force's need to get the new KC-X tankers, Air Mobility Command
On Sept. 24, just four days before the Sheppard AFB KC-135E was
flown for the last time, Department of Defense officials announced
a new KC-X tanker draft request for proposal has gone out. The plan
calls for 179 aerial refueling tankers to replace the half-century
old KC-135. The new KC-X will also augment the airlift fleet by
carrying cargo, passengers and medical patients in a secondary
With the KC-X announcement, Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, the AMC
commander, was glad to hear the news. "This is a great day not only
for Air Mobility Command, which operates our nation's fleet of
aerial refueling aircraft, but also for our country as this is a
capability we critically need," he said. "As a warfighter, I'm glad
to see this day come."
As the KC-X process continues, officials said AMC's challenge
will be to continue meeting a steep requirement of worldwide air
refueling needs by the Air Force and its joint and coalition
partners. That job falls to the aircrew, maintenance and other
support personnel. The KC-135 fleet currently maintains an 80
percent mission capable rate, officials from AMC's Logistics
Directorate reported. For each hour of flight of a KC-135, it
requires an average of seven to eight man-hours of maintenance. The
KC-135E sent to Sheppard AFB to train maintenance Airmen helps in
preparing new maintainers to meet this effort.
In the Air Force, every time a KC-135 mission is flown, it
requires a crew chief and two assistants to inspect the plane for
repairs. When something needs repaired, a specialist is called in.
Currently, the top KC-135 systems incurring the most maintenance
man-hours in the field are the fuel tank systems, auxiliary power
units, flight controls and engine instruments.
Another item to consider is every year, approximately 72 KC-135s
go through Air Force Materiel Command's depot maintenance with a
number of age-related issues needing to be addressed. KC-135
systems and maintenance managers said this is causing the days in
depot to grow. Planners also note that the older the KC-135s get,
the more resources in time, manpower and money it will takes to fix
them. AMC projections show that in the next 15 to 30 years, there
will be an anticipated increase in planned depot maintenance for
KC-135s. This will include rewiring, reskinning, corrosion control
and other structural maintenance as well as overhauling flight
controls and upgrading aging analog systems in the aircraft. That
extra maintenance could increase annual costs anywhere from $2
billion to $6 billion.
While some retired KC-135Es are set up for training at Sheppard
AFB, others are set aside for parts at the "boneyard" at
Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. "It (the aircraft) may be here for another
15 to 20 years as we harvest parts off it," said Col. Tom
Schneider, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group
commander. "We are going to put this aircraft to good use. It will
go into storage, which means it will be eligible for parts
withdrawal to keep the rest of the fleet flying."
Officials are confident they can keep the worldwide air
refueling mission going with the KC-135R and KC-10 Extender fleet.
However, they also are fervently awaiting the new tanker. The time
is now to move on with this program, said General Lichte of the Air
Force's No. 1 procurement priority. This is a critical commitment
to recapitalize a key aircraft supporting the national military
ANN Salutes Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol, Air Mobility Command
Public Affairs, and Staff Sgt. Tim Beckham serving with the 355th
Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office.