The Challenge: The United States Air Force (USAF) fleet of 400+ KC-135 tanker aircraft are called upon to refuel U.S. and coalition aircraft around the world. This mission requires that the KC-135 have unrestricted access to domestic and international commercial and military airspace. New civil airspace Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) requirements threatened to restrict the KC-135’s access to certain airspace and limit the ability of the aircraft to fulfill its missions. Without an upgrade to the KC-135 avionics system, the USAF would face challenges in supporting missions around the globe.
The Solution: Rockwell Collins designed and implemented an upgrade to the USAF KC-135 fleet to allow unrestricted access to airspace worldwide, while updating the aircraft to comply with new and emerging airspace requirements. The KC-135 Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) program took an aging aircraft, with an abundance of legacy equipment, and incorporated the latest Communication Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) technology.
This upgrade not only brought the aircraft into compliance with new requirements, it also improved mission effectiveness, providing increased situational awareness to both the aircrew and air traffic control while increasing overall avionics reliability. The mean time between failure of the upgraded aircraft systems improved by over 1,000 percent while the mean time to repair decreased by more than 500 percent. Many of the aircraft’s navigational functions have been automated to decrease crew workload. Increasingly stringent navigation performance requirements demanded in the worldwide airspace system are supported through fuel management integration with the Flight Management System (FMS), integrated mission planning, time of arrival improvements and depiction of airspace boundaries (i.e., special use airspace, warning areas and air refueling tracks) on multi-function displays.
The upgrades to the 400+ KC-135 aircraft were all completed on schedule and on budget in one of the USAF’s most successful acquisition programs.
The Benefit: This program provides the USAF KC-135 fleet with unfettered access to global airspace and allows aircrews to execute their mission refueling military and state aircraft anywhere in the world, anytime. The KC-135 GATM program provides a quantum leap in capabilities to the aircrew while seamlessly integrating into national and international air traffic control structures.