The KC-135 can now handle cargo without the need for a K-loader or a forklift thanks to the Pack and Transport Reloader crane

The KC-135 can now handle cargo without the need for a K-loader or a forklift thanks to the Pack and Transport Reloader crane

By Dario Leone
May 21 2023
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The KC-135 can only load and unload cargo with the support of a K-loader or a forklift. With the Pack and Transport Reloader crane the USAF will be able to take cargo to locations that would not be able to the service support.

Airmen from the 509th Weapons Squadron tested a new prototype Pack and Transport Reloader (PATR) crane during an integration training at a special operations forces exercise at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 7-12, 2023.

As explained by Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sena in the article 509th Weapons Squadron tests new cargo loading crane with goal to expand KC-135 capabilities, the 509th WPS partnered with Fairchild Air Force Base’s innovation cell to create the crane with a goal of expanding the KC-135 Stratotanker’s ability to load and unload various types of cargo.

“The goal is to retrofit the fleet of KC-135s with this capability to allow them to operate in more places with a smaller footprint,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Sowder, 509th WPS Advanced Instructor Training cadre and inflight refueling specialist. “The KC-135 can only load and unload cargo with the support of a K-loader or a forklift. With this crane we will be able to take cargo to locations that would not be able to give us support.”

The KC-135 can now handle cargo without the need for a K-loader or a forklift thanks to the Pack and Transport Reloader crane
US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Sowder, 509th Weapons Squadron Advanced Instructor Training cadre and inflight refueling specialist, operates the Pack and Transport Reloader (PATR) crane prototype at Hurlburt Field, Florida, May 12, 2023. Initial testing for the crane took place at Fairchild AFB in April, and included the crane lifting multiple litters, a 250-pound Versatile Integrating Partner equipment Refueling (VIPER) refueling kit, and 300 pounds of aircraft equipment to include a tow bar. 

Utilizing this innovation can also improve the KC-135s ability to support its already robust core air refueling and aeromedical evacuation mission capabilities.

“With the [PATR] crane operating on the KC-135, it will strengthen Air Mobility Command’s toolbelt and allow a faster larger fleet of tankers to move cargo and equipment to more locations in the world,” Sowder said. “The crane will also allow for more efficient aeromedical evacuation missions by adding the ability to load patients onboard the aircraft using a litter.”

Initial testing for the crane took place at Fairchild AFB in April, and included the crane lifting multiple litters, a 250-pound Versatile Integrating Partner equipment Refueling (VIPER) refueling kit, and 300 pounds of aircraft equipment to include a tow bar.

“The crane is currently a stage one prototype with a capability of loading nearly 2,000 pounds and configured to be easily portable and changeable to meet the needs of the mission,” Sowder said. “The use of the crane on the KC-135 could play a critical role part in Agile Combat Employment and the ability for a KC-135 crew to operate with minimum support anywhere around the globe.”

KC-135R Print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. KC-135R Stratotanker 161st Air Refueling Wing, 197th Air Refueling Squadron “Copperheads”, 63-8038 – Arizona Air National Guard – Sky Harbor ANG Base, AZ

Through innovations like the PATR crane, Team Fairchild and the 509th WPS continue to work together to improve the KC-135 mission and capabilities to sustain rapid global mobility anytime, anywhere.

The KC-135 Stratotanker provides the core aerial refueling capability for the US Air Force. This unique asset enhances the Air Force’s capability to accomplish its primary missions of Global Reach and Global Power. It also provides aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft.

The KC-135 is also capable of transporting litter and ambulatory patients using patient support pallets during aeromedical evacuations. A cargo deck above the refueling system can hold a mixed load of passengers and cargo. Depending on fuel storage configuration, the KC-135 can carry up to 83,000 pounds of cargo.

The KC-135 can now handle cargo without the need for a K-loader or a forklift thanks to the Pack and Transport Reloader crane
US Air Force Airmen from the 509th Weapons Squadron load cargo using the Pack and Transport Reloader (PATR) crane prototype at Hurlburt Field, Florida, May 12, 2023. The 509th WPS partnered with Fairchild Air Force Base’s innovation cell to create the crane with a goal of expanding the KC-135 Stratotanker’s ability to load and unload various types of cargo using the PATR crane prototype.

Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sena / U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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