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KC-135s nose jobs to save Air Force $30 million

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo by Nick Stubbs

Left to right, Master Sgts. Joseph Maltese and Tony Beavers, with Staff Sgt. Chris White, 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, show off the new nose of a KC-135.

Nose jobs are all the rage and they even are a big part of a couple of new reality TV shows. But while the recipients who debut their new proboscis before millions of television fans receive applause and flowers, there will be no fanfare for the nose jobs on MacDill's KC-135 fleet.

Six of 12 tankers already have been fitted with the new, improved radomes and the remainder will be done when the parts are received, said Staff Sgt. Mario Camario, maintenance scheduler with the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

The new NORDAM Weather Master compressed foam core noses are stronger, wear longer and are lighter than the existing honeycomb noses, said Sgt. Camario.

The noses can house radar gear, he said, although not all KC-135s have nose radar.

"They are supposed to be a lot better and last a lot longer than the old radomes," said Sgt. Camario. "They seem to be strong and lighter from what we can see."

The nose cone replacement project began with testing last fall of a KC-135R Stratotanker provided by the Air Force Reserve Command's 507th Air Refueling Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

The Air Force chose the new radome because of its high-impact resistance and resistance to moisture intrusion, said Ron Hopkins, C/KC-135 structural engineer. It's also 10 pounds lighter and easier to repair.

The new radome consists of a foam core sandwiched between inner and outer fiberglass plies. Mr. Hopkins says the time between failures for the new radome is projected at 17,241 hours versus 1,689 hours on the existing honeycomb.

Current honeycomb radomes are failing and being condemned at a high rate partly due to the radome layers separating, he said.

"Moisture was entering the edge of the older radome where it would freeze and expand at flying altitudes causing disjointing of the radome materials," Mr. Hopkins said.

The Air Force initially will issue the new radomes to customers as a TCTO modification kit. Most of the C/KC-135 currently being flown will receive these kits. KC-135D/E aircraft will not get the modification because they are pending retirement.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Erickson, NCO in charge of the 507th Maintenance Group's quality assurance section, said it takes four hours to install the radome.

Installing the new foam core radome is a reduction of total ownership cost initiative with a projected savings of $29.6 million during the life of the C/KC-135 weapon system. Maj. Rich Curry, 507th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs contributed to this article.




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