Getting an Inside Job

Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, Kan., is helping the Air Force assess the structural viability of the KC-135 tanker fleet and whether these Eisenhower-era airframes really have enough life left in them to last out to 2040 or longer as projected. NIAR reported June 25 that it is now working under a six-year Air Force contract to investigate three KC-135 airframes using structural teardown examination methods. This work will be conducted in cooperation with the Air Force Academy’s Center for Aircraft Structural Life Extension and industry representatives. To handle the KC-135 activities, the institute has begun expanding its aging aircraft lab by hiring new employees and leasing a new 10,000 sq. ft. facility at Wichita’s Augusta Airport where it will receive large KC-135 part shipments. Having already validated the KC-135 structural teardown protocols during a previous 18-month effort, NIAR researchers are now concentrating on examining some of the approximately 300 hotspots on the aircraft using traditional structural teardown examination methods as well as non-destructive inspection processes. (For more on the health of the KC-135 fleet, read The High Price of Delay as well as The Skin of Our Teeth.)