“Bubble Wrap”

The KC-135Es still flying will all be parked on the ramp by the end of the year, but, as with those already grounded, they won’t be fully retired, said Gen. Arthur Lichte, head of Air Mobility Command, Sept. 3. (See above) About eight years ago, the Air Force scrapped the idea to re-engine the remaining E model tankers when the service discovered advanced strut corrosion during depot-level checks. Back then, engineers said the airframes had probably five years of life in them. “We’ve been band-aiding and stretching that,” Lichte said. He noted that, by Congressional mandate, the grounded E models sit on the ramp in what the Air Force calls “XJ” status, which requires maintainers to rotate the tires every 10 days, start the engines every 45 days, and fix any problems that are discovered. The same will be done for the rest of the E models, since AMC won’t get permission to send them to the boneyard until there is a clear timeline for acquisition of new KC-X tankers. At that point, the KC-135Es will be shipped to the Arizona desert and put in “type 1000” storage, “which means—my terms—we put them in bubble wrap,” Lichte said and added, “We can’t use them for spare parts; we have to keep them in a good spot, which in my mind doesn’t make sense.” To restore many of these aircraft to useful service would require new struts—a three-year effort at $14 million a copy—which, Lichte said is not a good option. To compensate for the grounded aircraft, AMC is flying its remaining tankers at a higher rate.