News | May 2, 2024

Reliable Robotics Delivers KC-135 Stratotanker Automation Roadmap To U.S. Air Force

Mountain View, CA (BUSINESS WIRE) - Reliable Robotics, a leader in safety-enhancing aircraft automation systems, today announced completion of a KC-135 Stratotanker Automation Study for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The study was commissioned by the USAF as part of a Small Business Innovation Research Phase III contract to examine in detail how Reliable’s aircraft-agnostic autonomous flight system would be integrated into large multi-engine aircraft. Most significantly, findings from the KC-135 Automation Report further validated that Reliable’s commercially developed technology can be scaled to automate all phases of KC-135 operation including taxi, takeoff and landing, while continuing to mature automation of the refueling boom. The report was presented to senior Air Mobility Command (AMC) leadership earlier this year.

“The Air Force is continually innovating, and autonomy will be a key enabler for global missions and agile combat employment,” said Colonel Lisa A. Nemeth, Headquarters Air Mobility Command A5/8, Deputy Director Strategy, Plans, Requirements, and Programs. “Automating the KC-135 for refueling, cargo transport, and joint operations with coalition military forces will allow pilots and crew to focus on higher-complexity tasks.”

With nearly 400 in operation, the KC-135 Stratotanker serves a crucial role in meeting the refueling and air mobility needs of the United States Air Force. Bringing remotely piloted operations to the KC-135 will enable increased operational tempo, innovative logistics capabilities, enhanced readiness and significantly lower operational costs. Automated aerial refueling enables air power to be projected farther downrange by sustaining the force in dynamic and contested environments. Leveraging Reliable’s aircraft automation technology will provide these transformational capabilities rapidly at reduced procurement costs for the Department of Defense.

Reliable envisions that the KC-135 automation solution will:

  • Automate aircraft operations, including taxi, takeoff, cruise and landing
  • Enable operations with reduced crew workload, greater operational efficiencies and enhanced technological capabilities
  • Provide safe and efficient automated refueling of military fleets

“Deep integration with U.S. Air Force teams and in-depth evaluation of the aircraft informed our determination that the hardware and system architectures we’ve developed are capable of automating the KC-135,” explained Juerg Frefel, CTO and Co-founder of Reliable Robotics. “We are confident we can assist the Air Force in maturing large aircraft automation design configurations, and rapidly deliver a proof of concept for automated KC-135 operations.”

Reliable Robotics has the most advanced FAA certification program for full aircraft automation with certification plan acceptance in 2023 and all requirements for the aircraft navigation and autopilot systems agreed upon in early 2024. Together with the FAA, agreement has been reached on the testing and analysis that will be performed to show that these highly automated systems satisfy safety and performance requirements. With FAA approval, Reliable Robotics has already successfully remotely operated uncrewed flights with two airframes, the Cessna 172 in 2019 and the Cessna 208B Caravan in 2023.

Reliable’s success in USAF demonstrations and industry-leading FAA certification progress make the company uniquely positioned to rapidly deliver a transformational KC-135 automation capability to the Department of Defense.

About Reliable Robotics
Reliable Robotics launched in 2017 to bring safe, certified automation systems to commercial aviation. The company’s system enables remote operation of any aircraft type. Reliable’s vision is to transform the way we move goods and people around the planet with safer, more convenient and more affordable air transportation. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, CA and has a distributed global workforce. Learn more and see job openings at

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Reliable Robotics Corporation and its respective logos are trademarks, registered trademarks, or service marks of the company. Other products and company names mentioned are the trademarks of their respective owners.

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development, and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit

As the innovation arm of the DAF and a directorate within the Air Force Research Laboratory, AFWERX brings cutting-edge American ingenuity from small businesses and start-ups to address the most pressing challenges of the DAF. AFWERX employs approximately 370 military, civilian and contractor personnel at five hubs and sites executing an annual $1.4 billion budget. Since 2019, AFWERX has executed 6,028 new contracts worth more than $4 billion to strengthen the U.S. defense industrial base and drive faster technology transition to operational capability. For more information, visit:

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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