Military News

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

9th ARS certifies first Travis aircrew on upgrades

by Senior Airman Charles Rivezzo
60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

5/15/2015 - TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The 9th Air Refueling Squadron successfully certified Travis' first aircrew on the KC-10 Extender's first major avionics and air traffic management upgrade May 7.

Having been in operation with the U.S. Air Force since 1981 without significant modernization, the upgrade of the airframe's communication, navigation and surveillance capabilities, aka CNS/ATM, marks a significant step toward ensuring the KC-10's role in future global operations.

According to Maj. Justin Esquivel, the CNS/ATM project officer at Travis, the modernization is the most cost-effective method for the KC-10 fleet to comply with increasingly stringent communication, navigation and surveillance requirements imposed air traffic regulations.

"The CNS/ATM upgrade allows for unrestricted access to airspace that otherwise would have not been available to unmodified KC-10s," Esquivel said.

The long overdue upgrade is addressed by a study published by the RAND Corp., which provides objective insight into the cost-effectiveness of modernizing the KC-10.

The study found that the CNS/ATM upgrade featured a positive net present value, meaning that the overall benefit was greater than the cost to procure these upgrades.

The result is a multi-pronged program that addresses looming obsolescence issues, meets global and civil airspace requirements as well as Federal Aviation Administration certification.

"Traditionally, communication between aircraft and ground-based air traffic controllers has been accomplished through line-of-sight communication primarily consisting of voice communication via VHF and UHF radios," Esquivel said. "However, air traffic facilities are increasingly relying on data links and beyond-line-of-sight communication which significantly improves effectiveness of communications between pilots and controllers.

"In busy airspace, communication limitations have restricted the number of aircraft that can access the airspace and increased the time it takes to send and receive air traffic clearances. As a result, new communication capabilities have been mandated to increase communication capacity."

Simply stated, as currently configured, the KC-10 will have reduced access to airspace which includes some of the most fuel-efficient routings and altitudes.

Additionally, as part of the software upgrade, the aircraft's navigation and surveillance systems will provide the aircrew with greater situational awareness with regard to formation flying, thereby increasing the margin of safety.

Esquivel explained that this increased capability will be translated to non-formation flying and operations where air traffic control requires reduced separation of aircraft. This closer spacing is designed to increase fuel efficiency and reduce delays.

"Without CNS/ATM the KC-10 would quickly become obsolete," the project officer said. "The aircraft has yet to have a major avionics or communications upgrade and this is a significant step toward ensuring the future viability of the KC-10."

Currently, Travis has two modified KC-10s on loan from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in order for aircrew to familiarize themselves with the new systems.

"All KC-10 crews will be scheduled for a differences course which, right now, consists of computer based training, classroom training and a certification sortie," Esquivel said. "The process takes about four days."

The installation is scheduled to receive its first modified aircraft later this year. In total, the fleet of 27 KC-10s assigned to Travis is projected to be fully upgraded by October 2016.

(Editor's Note: Maj. Justin Esquivel, Maj. Chuck Erickson and Tech. Sgt. Brad Kretschmer are the first to be certified on the CNS/ATM upgrade at Travis.)

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