US completes first Turkish KC-135R upgrade

A Türk Hava Kuvvetleri (THK, Turkish Air Force)-operated Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker has recently been returned to Turkey after completion of a Block 45 upgrade. Completion of the work was announced by the US Air Force Life Cycle Management Center on September 14.

The aircraft - serial 60-0325 - the first of the seven in THK service to be modernised and has received a major flight deck upgrade in the Field Aerospace facility at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Block 45 upgrade completely re-modelled the inside of the aircraft’s flight deck, with new liquid crystal displays, radio altimeter, computer module updates, autopilot and a digital flight director. These replaced approximately 63 older components, including analogue instruments which are considered high-maintenance or obsolete altogether.

First upgraded Turkish KC-135R
Turkish Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker 60-0325 after completion of its Block 45 upgrade by Field Aerospace in its Oklahoma City-Will Rogers World Airport facility. USAF/AFLCMC

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, said: “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.”

John Wilson, the directorate’s Block 45 program manager, said: “In fact, the US 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 mod. 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. Prior to Block 45, our analogue autopilot averaged 500 flight hours between failures. Now, we’re averaging 49,000 flight hours between failures.”

Prior to completing the update on the aircraft, the directorate worked with the US Air Force Security Assistance and Training Squadron to co-ordinate Block 45 training for four THK pilots, so they would be fully qualified to fly the newly modified aircraft back to Turkey. “With the ability to provide aerial refuelling, aeromedical evacuations and carry up to 83,000lbs 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 Conley.

A second Turkish KC-135 is currently undergoing the new modification, with the remaining fleet expected to receive the update no later than 2023.