The first of seven Turkish Air Force Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft recently returned to Turkey after receiving a major flight deck upgrade at Field Aerospace in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The upgrade, termed “Block 45”, completely remodeled the inside of the aircraft’s flight deck, with new liquid crystal displays, radio altimeter, computer module updates, autopilot, and a digital flight director, replacing approximately 63 parts to include analog instruments which are considered high-maintenance or obsolete altogether. The U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 fleet – which is also receiving the Block 45 modification – has seen an increase in aircraft availability due in part to the modification.
“Turkey is a key ally in a very strategically important part of the world. Block 45 makes it so much easier for pilots to operate the aircraft and notice malfunctions faster. It also helps with sustainment of the aircraft in the long run. With the ability to provide aerial refueling, aeromedical evacuations, and carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo, the KC-135 is a key asset, and we – in partnership with Field Aerospace – are working hard to complete the updates and return the aircraft to Turkey as quickly as possible,” said James Conley, a foreign military sales program manager within the Mobility and Training Aircraft Directorate’s Legacy Tanker Division, which is leading the effort to upgrade the Turkish KC-135 fleet.
Prior to completing the update on the aircraft, the directorate worked with the U.S. Air Force Security Assistance and Training Squadron to coordinate Block 45 training for four Turkish Air Force pilots, so they would be fully qualified to fly the newly modified aircraft back to Turkey. Taking out old antiquated gauges and systems and bringing them up to date (with Block 45) has saved us thousands of (maintenance) hours a year. A second Turkish Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is currently undergoing the new modification, with the remaining fleet expected to receive the update no later than 2023.
The Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker is a military aerial refueling aircraft that was developed from the Boeing 367-80 prototype, alongside the Boeing 707 airliner. It is the predominant variant of the C-135 Stratolifter family of transport aircraft. The KC-135 was the US Air Force’s first jet-powered refueling tanker and replaced the KC-97 Stratofreighter. The KC-135 was initially tasked with refueling strategic bombers, but it was used extensively in the Vietnam War and later conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm to extend the range and endurance of US tactical fighters and bombers.