The U.S. Air Force (USAF) fleet of KC-135R tanker aircraft powered by the advanced CFM56-2 engine has logged more than 11 million flight hours and five million flight cycles in service.
The CFM56-2 engine (designated the F108 for military applications) is produced by CFM International (CFM), a 50/50 joint company between Snecma of France and General Electric of the United States. The USAF is CFM’s largest customer, with a total of 1,962 engines ordered to re-engine 468 aircraft.
“KC-135 re-engining has been one of the most successful modernization programs in USAF history and we are proud to be a part of it,” said Eric Bachelet, president and CEO of CFM International. “The CFM56-2/F108 is ideally matched to the KC-135 mission, and its economics have provided the USAF with tremendous value in terms of fleet operations, commonality, and low maintenance costs.”
In 1979, the USAF order for CFM56-2 engines to re-engine KC-135A tankers helped launch the fledgling engine manufacturer. Today, CFM is the world’s leading supplier of turbofan engines for commercial and military transport aircraft, with more than 22,500 total CFM56 engine orders from nearly 500 operators around the globe.
Since the first F108 was first delivered in 1984, the fleet has achieved the status as the most reliable engine in the USAF inventory. More than 67 percent of the engines originally installed have yet to be taken off wing for any reason. The high time engine has logged more than 18,000 hours in 19 years in military operation without a removal.
The F108-powered KC-135R is capable of off-loading more fuel to receiver aircraft than the original tanker version, with significantly better engine fuel consumption, in addition to extended range, improved reliability, and lower maintenance costs than the original engines. The use of a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) product has allowed the USAF to leverage commercial experience and hardware improvements into its fleet. The worldwide base of commercial repair facilities also provides the USAF with a significant level of “warm base” support.
Currently, the USAF is in process of selecting a new generation tanker under the KC-X program to further increase its capabilities. Northrop Grumman is offering the KC-30 tanker, which will be powered by the CF6-80E1 engine. In addition to the relationship through CFM, Snecma is also a key partner on the CF6-80E1 engine. Since the KC-30 engine is identical to the commercial application, the USAF can benefit from proven reliability and performance enhancements inherent in the CF6 engine.
In addition to the KC-135 program, the CFM56-2 also powers KC-135 tanker aircraft for the French, Turkish, Singapore, UK and Saudi Air Forces, as well as the B707 based E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft for the British, French, and Saudi air forces, and the B707 based E-6B communications aircraft for the U.S. Navy.
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