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C-17 fleet Completes Block 21 Upgrade

Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Recently a team under the direction of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's C-17 Program Office completed Block 21 upgrades on the entire fleet of 275 C-17 aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and eight allied countries.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Recently a team under the direction of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's C-17 Program Office completed Block 21 upgrades on the entire fleet of 275 C-17 aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and eight allied countries. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Last month, a team under the direction of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) C-17 Program Office completed Block 21 upgrades on the entire fleet of 275 C-17 aircraft operated by the U.S. Air Force and eight allied countries, meeting the Jan. 1, 2020 mandate imposed by civil aviation authorities. 

With Block 21, the aircraft now have hardware and software for the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) system required by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and aviation authorities in Europe, for planes operating in controlled airspace. 

ADS-B Out is a next generation transponder system that broadcasts the precise position and location information of an aircraft in real time, giving air traffic control better visibility to track and manage aircraft while enhancing aircraft safety by providing aircrew more situational awareness of nearby aircraft.

“The benefit of ADS-B Out is that it allows the C-17 to travel in better airspace,” said Lt. Col. Jake Elsass, Materiel Leader for the C-17 Maintenance and Modifications Branch. “It allows for better fuel efficiency and better routes, which is really important when you are dealing with aeromedical evacuations where you have time sensitivities. Using the better airspace will allow the C-17 to get to its destination faster and more efficiently.”

In addition to ADS-B Out, Block 21 included an Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) modification and other communication/navigation capability software updates. These additional modifications significantly improve the aircraft’s flight management systems.

“We had installation teams at five CONUS locations and also deployed personnel to five foreign countries to make this happen,” said Jim Ross, the primary Block 21 retrofit manager in the C-17 Program Office. “The logistics effort for moving people, tools, modification kits, and support equipment was massive. This is a big win for the enterprise.”

The C-17 Program Office was instrumental in ensuring the C-17 fleet received the required modifications in order to meet the January 2020 deadline.

“There was a lot of work from many agencies and individuals to ensure we met the schedule,” said 1st Lt. Ashley Houser, C-17 Program Manager. “We had a lot of collaboration and visits with subcontractors [installing upgrades] to ensure we got all of the pieces in the aircraft to include seven or eight different sub-systems that interact together.”

“It was truly a team effort,” Elsass said, as he talked about the two-year effort to upgrade the aircraft. “It involved members of the program office, Boeing, USAF and FMS maintainers, and every major command that we support. I’m proud of our team for making these upgrades happen.”