Since the days of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, aerial refueling tanker aircraft played a vital role in the U.S. Air Force and in air forces around the world. Generations of pilots have flown these planes; in fact the last pilots to fly them have not even been born yet, since many tankers will be flying for another 30 years or more. In order to comply with global airspace mandates tanker aircraft need significant updates and expanded capabilities. Without these upgrades, the planes will be forced to fly restricted altitudes or make route diversions, potentially leading to increased fuel consumption and longer travel time to reach aircraft in need of fuel.
In September 2011, Rockwell Collins completed the final avionics upgrade delivery for the C/KC-135 Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) program on time and within budget. This delivery marked a significant milestone in a series of successful tanker programs achievements, including wins on KC-135 Block 45, KC-46 and KC-10, making Rockwell Collins the primary avionics provider for all U.S. Air Force tanker programs. In addition, Embraer has selected Rockwell Collins to provide the Pro Line Fusion flight deck for the new Brazilian Air Force KC-390 tanker.
“This award is emblematic of our ability to leverage commercial avionics technology for military applications,” said Dave Nieuwsma, vice president and general manager of Mobility and Rotary Wing Solutions. “With advanced technologies including the largest format displays available, enhanced graphic capabilities and available synthetic vision, our Pro Line Fusion flight deck will provide KC-390 pilots with the highest levels of situational awareness while reducing their workload to ensure mission success.”
Rockwell Collins is also providing commercial technology for a military application on the KC-46 program. Four 15.1-inch diagonal Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs), built on technology from the Boeing 787 program, increase reliability and safety for the KC-46. Other solutions include the Tactical Situational Awareness System (TSAS), which provides the crew with cues to both threats and friendly entities; the Signal Data Concentrator Network (SDCN) for fast information sharing and the Remote Vision System (RVS), which uses both 3D and 2D technology to assist in aerial refueling.
“Without modification, Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) technology can’t withstand the environmental conditions that technology on the tanker will endure under normal operating conditions,” explained Gladys Yanez, a systems engineer working on the RVS. “If you put your camera in the freezer — temperatures that the RVS sensors will routinely experience — it probably won’t work anymore. So we ruggedized each piece of the RVS, which was challenging, but something Rockwell Collins knows how to do well.”
The recent award of a contract to Rockwell Collins by the U.S. Air Force for the KC-10 Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) Cockpit Modernization Program solidifies Rockwell Collins as the primary avionics provider to the U.S. Air Force tanker fleet. Under the contract, we will provide the flight management system, displays, data link communications and surveillance capabilities. As part of the program, the KC-10 will retain its commercial (FAA) cockpit certification.
Rockwell Collins’ ability to use our proven commercial off-the-shelf technologies, such as Pro Line Fusion, and our experience with ruggedizing components to withstand extreme operating environments means we can offer the military market cost-effective and easily upgradable solutions for their tanker aircraft.