U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker Fleet Receives ADS-B Out Upgrade

The U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker fleet has received the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) upgrade, the service announced.

The ADS-B Out program was established to upgrade the KC-135 fleet with the next generation transponder system that is critical for air traffic control (ATC)’s visibility into their respective airspace. The system broadcasts the precise position and location of aircraft in real time, giving air traffic control better visibility to track and manage, while enhancing safety by providing aircrew more situational awareness of nearby aircraft.

Installation of this capability was mandated by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow the fleet of 396 KC-135s to operate in controlled airspace. Aircraft without this modification would be subject to sub-optimal routing around high traffic airspace adding wear and tear to the engines and increasing fuel costs.

Michigan Air National Guard KC-135T Statotanker In Flight
A Michigan Air National Guard KC-135T from the 171st Air Refueling Squadron at Selfridge ANG Base in flight on a refueling mission over central United States. The KC-135 is used for refueling other aircraft in mid-air across the globe. It has a secondary mission as a transport aircraft, moving personnel and equipment. To learn more about Selfridge and to walk inside the KC-135 Stratotanker yourself, visit the Selfridge International Open House and Air Show June 6 & 7. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Munnaf Joarder)

The effort, led by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC)’s Tanker Directorate, started on Oct. 7, 2019 and as of June 1, 2020, even with the slow-down from COVID-19, the team finished 99+ percent of the 396 aircraft and are only waiting for the last couple of jets to return from deployment.



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