Out with analog and in with digital: KC-135s are being upgraded

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Two upgraded KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft, which house a new system known as the Block 45 program, were delivered to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, April 2017.

“The wing finally received their first Block 45 modified aircraft earlier this year,” said Tech. Sgt. Erica Northam, a communications, navigation and mission systems instructor assigned to the 373rd Training Squadron, Detachment 2. “The modifications are the beginning of the eventual all-glass cockpit, which will take a lot of our old analog systems and make them digital.”

The Block 45 is replacing all of the outdated systems with enhanced computer capabilities to match those of other Air Force and civilian aircraft.

“This program is an incredible upgrade to the KC-135s,” added Senior Airman Steven Parras, an integrative flight control systems technician assigned to the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “The new system has replaced the analog indicators in the cockpit with a big screen known as the Electronic Engine Instrument Display.”

The EEID allows avionics technicians the capability of quicker troubleshooting as it isn’t as high maintenance as the old analog indicators.

“When we are troubleshooting on the old analog system, we have to consider the indicators themselves as it is very possible they are the issue and not the system they reflect,” said Parras. “Now, with the Block 45, all of these indicators are essentially integrated into one computer.”

The EEID is one of many upgrades, including a new auto pilot system, flight director, and radar altimeter, just to name a few.

“All of these upgrades are meant to help us maintain an even more reliable aircraft,” Northam stated. “The dual Auto Pilot System means if one were to become compromised during flight, there would be another APS to get the crew where they need to go.”

Parras explained that these jet upgrades are completed at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

“They can only upgrade a couple at a time,” he added. “It’s all based on the needs of the Air Force, what base gets them and in what order.”

In order to keep up, MacDill has quickly adapted to having these new jets by offering a one-week course, similar to other avionics technician courses, once a month. This course is available to a few Airmen at a time from the 6th Air Mobility Wing and other bases as well.

Instructors like Northam, provide students with the information they need, and then take them to the jets to get their hands on the new system.

“This class is a chance for our aircraft crew to break away from their already busy schedules and get a chance to run up the Block 45 systems, fully operational,” Northam informed. “This gives them a better understanding of what to look for in the instance the system needs maintenance. The new Block 45 aircraft have definitely been living up to their promise so far!”