067 – “KC-135 VHF Data Link (VDL) Ramp Tester”

Author: Daniel Edlin
Company: Tinker AFB, 76 AMXG
Phone: (405) 736-7367
Email: daniel.edlin.1@us.af.mil

KC-135 aircraft are re-flown to test data link communications due to the absence of a local system capable of broadcasting a very high frequency (VHF) communication signal. In FY18, 12 aircraft required re-flight due to data link repairs, with each requiring an average of two (2) re-flights. Due to the inability to test the communication system while grounded at Tinker AFB, avionics mechanics would sometimes unnecessarily replace all the communication components within the system. In effort to try and reduce the number of flights for solely a data link communication test, market research was performed. Research led to a data communications company, Airtel being the only provider with a portable data link tester that was small enough for avionics mechanics to use while aboard the aircraft. The small portable system eliminates the need for a large infrastructure Air Traffic Control (ATC) center.

The engineering branch of the 76 Aircraft Maintenance Group (AMXG) procured the system in an effort to save cost of re-flying aircraft. Procurement of the Airtel Data Link Ramp Tester (MTP-100), allows avionics to use the system to simulate a ground station to test the aircraft VHF Data Link (VDL) communication. In-turn, the avionics mechanics are able to troubleshoot and pinpoint components or issues within the aircraft communication system to avoid a full system replacement. Each flight equates to $63,865, which includes preflight and recovery, fuel, and pilot / administration pay. Based on the flight cost, for FY18, 12 aircraft could have potentially saved the Air Force an estimated $1,532,760 if the MTP-100 was available for use. Since receiving the MTP-100, mechanics have used the unit on five aircraft preventing 10 flights and totaling $638,650 over a two-month period. The MTP-100 has already paid for itself and is continuously saving the Air Force money. Based on the initial first two months and each KC-135 aircraft averaging two communication simulations, the projected FY19 savings will be in the area of $3,831,900.