With Dedicated Airmen, Team McConnell Conquers Challenges

By MS. BETTY NYLUND BARR, STAFF WRITER

On January 25, 2019, the mighty KC-46 was delivered to McConnell Air Force Base (AFB), KS. The newest weapons system to the fleet was built in response to the U.S. Air Force’s procurement program to replace some of the oldest KC-135E Stratotankers. The Stratotanker had been in continuous operation for more than 50 years, so the KC-46 has a significant amount of new technology the KC-135 does not. “There are capabilities that this airplane has that have never been integrated into tankers before,” pointed out Col Richard Tanner, Commander of the 22d Air Refueling Wing (ARW), McConnell AFB.

Because the plane was new, no formalized procedure existed for checking it before accepting it from the manufacturer. Tanner explained that developing that procedure typically takes nearly one year, “but Team McConnell completed that lengthy task in only a month.”

The next issue encountered was the lack of weight and balance tables, which are necessary to operate the plane safely. TSgt Danielle Barnett, Quality Assurance Inspector, worked long hours for two weeks to build standard weight and balance tables, which became the benchmark for the entire KC-46 fleet. She also created a standard/minimum flight equipment list that is also used fleet wide.

Once the team began to fly local training missions, in late February, they discovered that the preflight procedure done by the booms had some problems. “It was failing and causing delays and cancellations,” said Tanner. SSgt Kyle Schultz, KC-46 Flying Crew Chief, tackled the challenge. “He figured out where all of the errors were taking place and submitted his findings to the engineers,” Tanner explained, and they validated the procedure

By March, the number of KC-46s being delivered was outpacing the number of aircrews who were trained and prepared for the aircraft. “We still had not identified how to make crews sufficient for the tails at the pace we were receiving them,” Tanner said. Because of the delays in qualified aircrew production, the team experienced extensive attrition of both active duty and reserve Airmen.

Undeterred by all the challenges, Team McConnell has come through with flying colors.

In March and April, the team had to address reduced sortie production resulting from foreign object damage oversight issues at the factory and a lack of spare parts. They also encountered fuel body tank issues that required maintenance, and they did not yet have the correct tool to remedy those issues. “From discovery to fixing internally to eventually removing by special procedures was a 10,000-man-hour procedure,” Tanner explained.

One of the team’s biggest challenges, according to Tanner, was solving problems with the Remote Vision System (RVS). “We had some boom operators struggling with headaches and eye strain and Undeterred by all the challenges, Team McConnell has come through with flying colors. other challenges,” he said. McConnell AFB brought in skilled analysts, who ran extensive tests on the equipment. It was TSgt David Smith, the KC-46 Instrumentation Flight Control Systems Craftsman, however, who figured out that the alignment of the equipment was off—and how it could be fixed. “He meticulously went through the process of this is what we’ve got, and this is what I think we need to do,” said Tanner. “He worked with Boeing and got the engineering up to speed and spec.”

In August, the team flew the KC-46 on a test flight over the Pacific to verify that previous issues had been resolved and that the team and the systems were capable of supporting the aircraft. During that mission, they discovered that the cargo locks were coming unblocked in flight, so the team refit the planes with new cargo locks. In addition, problems arose with the smoke barrier, and the team also worked to resolve that issue.

“I’m really proud of what the team at McConnell has accomplished over the last year.” Tanner described how Capt Colton “Hammy” Wetzel, 344th Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) Deputy Chief of Tactics and KC-46 pilot, expanded AMC tactical and technical capabilities and connected them to an Air Combat Command (ACC) warfighting perspective. “This is classic innovation by acquisition,” Tanner declared. Undeterred by all the challenges, Team McConnell has come through with flying colors. Their level of competence and innovation serves as an inspiration to anyone who is met with adversity along the path to excellence.

TSGT DANIELLE A. BARNETT: QUALITY ASSURANCE INSPECTOR

TSGT DANIELLE A. BARNETT:
QUALITY ASSURANCE INSPECTOR
• Developed KC-46 Weight and Balance standard configurations. Created and synchronized the Pegasus fleet with a standard/minimum flight equipment list, Master Chart A, and Chart Cs, which were benchmarked Air Force-wide.
• Developed fleet-wide server standardization for the Automated Weight and Balance System. Recognized as the “subject matter expert” by Air Mobility Command (AMC), as her diligent work is now considered the baseline.
• Was requested by name by Pease AFB, NH, to roadmap their KC-46 Weight and Balance programs—a 2-week TDY that included in-depth program assessments and Question and Answer (QA) training, resulting in the necessary expertise for Pease AFB to become the first Air National Guard base to receive USAF’s newest weapon system!

SSGT KYLE J. SCHULTZ: KC-46 FLYING CREW CHIEF

SSGT KYLE J. SCHULTZ:
KC-46 FLYING CREW CHIEF
• Identified boom preflight malfunctions were causing repeated aircraft departure delays.
• Developed detailed troubleshooting procedures for each phase of the Boom Preflight Functional Test by outlining when failure of preflight was occurring and the subsystem operating at the time of the failure. Confirmed findings by analyzing all assigned aircraft.
• Provided findings to engineering for further analysis and use in developing approved troubleshooting technical guidance.

TSGT DAVID O. SMITH: KC-46 INSTRUMENTATION FLIGHT CONTROL SYSTEMS CRAFTSMAN

TSGT DAVID O. SMITH:
KC-46 INSTRUMENTATION FLIGHT CONTROL SYSTEMS CRAFTSMAN
• Lead technician assigned to resolve the Aerial Refueling Operator Station (AROS) 3D camera double vision discrepancy affecting six aircraft.
• Had no available repair procedures to correct camera issue.
• Identified close-tolerance adjustment points for misaligned cameras and developed adjustment and limitation procedures to repair malfunctions.
• Provided guidance that received Air Force Technical Order Form 22 approval and is slated for future TO publication.

CAPT COLTON “HAMMY” WETZEL: 344 ARS DEPUTY CHIEF OF TACTICS AND KC-46 PILOT

APT COLTON “HAMMY” WETZEL:
344 ARS DEPUTY CHIEF OF TACTICS AND KC-46 PILOT
• Possesses Link-16, Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), and Tactical Sensor Integration expertise from F-16CJ.
• Was vital in integrating new AMC tactical capabilities and connecting ACC warfighting perspective.
• Is driving tactical employment into training for a contested environment.
• Led a cultural shift away from offloading gas to being completely integrated into a warfighting web.