509th Weapons Squadron tests new cargo loading crane with goal to expand KC-135 capabilities

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sena

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, May 7-12, 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.

“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.”

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.”

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.