A KC-46A Pegasus lands at McConnell AFB, KS. USAF photo illustration by A1C Alexi Myrick
By MS. BRITTANY OLSON, Staff Writer
On January 25, 2019, the 22d Air Refueling Wing and 931st Air Refueling Wing of McConnell Air Force Base marshalled in the first two KC-46A Pegasus aircraft; the Air Force’s newest refueler addition since the KC-10 Extender entered service in 1979. The development of the technologically advanced aircraft stems from an effort to modernize AMC’s fleet and fortify the Air Force’s strategic arsenal. The KC-46 fleet will assure long-term, operational lethality and reach of DoD aerial refueling, airlift, and aeromedical evacuation missions, by contributing unique warfighting capabilities and offering tactical advantages and logistical flexibility for combatant commanders.
The KC-46A Pegasus fleet will total 179 tankers and ultimately replace the majority of the KC-135 Stratotankers that entered service in 1956. The newest aircraft is a Boeing 767 commercial airliner that has been modified to hold 212,000 pounds of fuel, whereas the KC-135 has a capacity of 200,000 pounds. The Pegasus is equipped to service 64 different types of aircraft and can refuel at a rate of 1,200 gallons per minute.
From a technology standpoint, the KC-46 is superior to preceding refueling aircraft fleets and will limit aircrew dependence on analog techniques and reduce response times to in-flight emergencies. The KC-46 will operate exclusively from National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Aeronautical (NGA Aero) data with the capability to process the agency’s Digital Aeronautical Flight Information File (DAFIF). The aircraft is also performance-based navigation (PBN)-enabled and compatible with future digital, data-centric NGA Aero products.
The long-awaited arrival of the Pegasus involved years of infrastructural construction including three new maintenance hangars, technical training facilities and dormitories, and an air traffic control tower. Since the program’s inception, every single Airman transferring to the KC-46 program has been hand-selected based on merit and qualifications to guarantee the establishment of an accomplished, versatile team capable of overcoming any project challenge.
On February 26, 2019, 344th and 924th Air Refueling Squadron crews executed the very first in-flight training mission on the Pegasus and successfully refueled a C-17 Globemaster III. The aircraft will not be fully operational for months as Airmen prepare for operational readiness during a familiarization and initial operations testing and evaluation period. The familiarization phase consists of extensive aircrew ground and in-flight procedures including acceptance checklists; egress, fire suppression, and evacuation training; cargo, fueling and towing training; multiple engine starts; and taxi checklists. Training exercises include regular cargo rodeos, in which KC-46 boom operators of the 344th, 349th and 350th Air Refueling Squadrons participate in simulated loading scenarios with planted mistakes that crews are responsible for catching.
“It is kind of a crawl, walk, run for us in this familiarization period as we lead up to the initial operations test,” said Maj Chris Markley, 931 ARW Program Integration Chief and 18 ARS pilot.
“So, we’re going to fly a couple times a week initially and then we’ll really start turning all five of these airplanes and get them all airborne,” explained Capt Andrew Kim, 344 ARS pilot.
The KC-46A Pegasus Training Facility at McConnell Air Force Base is responsible for developing the curriculum and administering training to the entire KC-46 enterprise, including international allies. The facility opened its doors in April of 2019 to Airmen from the 22d Maintenance Group for the start of KC-46 training courses. Airman with 5- and 7-level maintenance skills and prior KC-135 Stratotanker experience will gradually transition to the KC-46 after mastering operational checks and new systems on the aircraft.
The training curriculum for KC-46 maintenance Airmen entails rigorous hands-on experience of in-flight deck/avionics, landing gear, flight control, fuel system, aerial refueling and engine/auxiliary power unit, and advanced wiring and electrical repair wiring. Boeing is currently developing 3D-simulation courseware to augment and accelerate the classroom and hands-on education. The courseware will enable students to open and close doors, remove panels, and complete operational check procedures straight from their desktop, before physically performing the task on an actual aircraft.
“I’m humbled and honored to be part of something that happens once in a generation. I’m excited to be part of the team that will set the precedence on how this new weapons system will be employed in the future,” said Kim.