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New system improves KC-135 performance, saves money

by Mary Wagner
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

6/23/2005 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFPN)  -- After years of development, the wheel and brake system improvement program for the KC-135 Stratotanker is ready for implementation by workers at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center here.

The steel brakes currently used on the KC-135 are being replaced with carbon brakes which allow the aircraft to complete 1,000 landings, as compared to 100 landings, before needing replacement, officials said.

"The reliability and maintainability of the whole system has improved," said Eduardo Ortega, an engineer for the 327th Tanker Sustainment Group. He added that the new system could last up to 10 years instead of the average one-year lifespan with the current setup.

The changes could save the Air Force $583 million throughout the life of the program, said Cathy Klea, the group’s program manager.

Chris Couch, an equipment specialist for the 327th TSG, said other changes resulted from the project. They include brakes operating on three rotors instead of five, a pressure of 3,000 pounds per square inch instead of 965, and using different wheels on the aircraft.

"There's less maintenance on the aircraft, (thus) saving money on parts," Mr. Couch said. "Plus, it performs better."

The improvement program originated from the invention of the carbon brake in 1968, but the brakes did not appear on aircraft until 1985. Since then, carbon brakes generally have been found on primarily commercial U.S. aircraft rather than military. With a $144 million spending allotment, the new system marks the largest improved item replacement program Air Force Materiel Command officials ever approved.

Logistics center workers here began working on the new brake system in 2002. The Ogden Air Logistics Center engineers at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, developed the preliminary design and then handed the system off to workers here to integrate it with the aircraft. Ms. Klea said the job here consisted of considering "what is best for the whole aircraft."

"Ogden designs the system, and we handle the aircraft interface," Mr. Couch said. "We make sure that what they design works on our aircraft."

Although logistics service tests using an Alaska Air National Guard KC-135 will continue, workers here equip all incoming KC-135s with the new system. The field tests will not end until July 2006, but Mr. Couch said some KC-135s with the new wheel and brake system have already been delivered.

"One of the reasons we do the logistics service tests is to collect raw data faster than if we waited for the aircraft to have the system installed in (programmed depot maintenance), go back into the field, and then collect data, " Ms. Klea said.

The brakes also tested well in high- and medium-risk conditions. Although engineers predicted the aircraft would handle certain conditions better, the performance of system "exceeded their expectations."

Despite the magnitude of the program, Ms. Klea said it might expand in the future. After flight tests showed a "45 percent reduction in stopping distance" under certain dry runway conditions, Ms. Klea said, officials wanted to further improve the new system.

"There's a push to capture what we couldn't in the basic program ... improved performance," Ms. Klea said.

Mr. Ortega explained that improved performance was not an original goal of the program because officials were not sure how much the new system would improve KC-135 performance.

"When this program first started, they had a hunch that it would improve performance, but they didn't know how much," Mr. Ortega said. "The flight test proved that there was an improved performance in some areas, so now the program will be extended to help capture it and help create technical manuals that reflect (it)." (Courtesy of AFMC News Service)

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