The US Air Force (USAF) has upgraded its KC-135 Stratotanker fleet with the installation of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out).

Led by Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Tanker Directorate, the ADS-B Out programme was established to upgrade the KC-135 fleet.

The next-generation transponder system will enhance the air traffic control’s visibility into their airspace.

Broadcasting the accurate location of aircraft in real time, the system will allow air traffic control to improve its tracking and managing capabilities with improved situational awareness.

The US Federal Aviation Administration mandated the installation to allow the 396 KC-135 fleet to operate in controlled airspace.

In addition, the ADS-B Out team simplifies the installation process where the final modification required a routine flight software update and a single field-level box swap.

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For the upgrade work, the team used 40 transponder line-replaceable units (LRUs) to create a rotable pool of assets.

The central Contractor Field Team (CFT) at Tinker Air Force Base (AFB) used the transponders to deliver and upgrade reducing factory upgrade time.

Additionally, three more CFTs were deployed to the largest KC-135 bases, including Fairchild AFB in Washington, McConnell AFB in Kansas, and MacDill AFB in Florida to upgrade transponders on-site.

In October last year, the upgrade efforts commenced. Earlier this month, the team concluded the modification of 396 aircraft despite the limitations caused due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The ADS-B Out programme will allow the KC-135 to maintain mission-readiness and support future missions.

Tanker Directorate programme executive officer Brigade General John Newberry said: “The KC-135 is arguably the most important aircraft in the Air Force.

“It’s a workhorse that is absolutely vital to American global reach and national security. I’m proud of the team’s efforts to keep the plane viable and operational as we bring on the KC-46 Pegasus.”