By BETTY NYLUND BARR, STAFF WRITER
In the past, the KC-46 Pegasus was exclusively available at McConnell Air Force Base (AFB), KS, which was the first base to utilize the aircraft. Now, four bases have KC-46s: McConnell; Altus AFB, OK; Pease Air National Guard Base, NH; and Seymour Johnson AFB, NC—the newest delivery site. As Air Mobility Command (AMC) integrates the latest weapons system into the fleet, testing is the primary focus.
Capt BreAnna Long, Short Notice Aerial Refueling Mission Director at 618th Air Operations Center (AOC), Scott AFB, IL, said, “We are using it a little bit more. We’re trying to see where it fits in with our normal missions and how we can utilize it while it’s in testing status.”
“In our shop,” Long said, “we schedule, plan, and execute the short-notice tanker requests,” which may be received with as little lead time as a day or, more usually, a week or two. “This is what we do for the KC-10 and the KC-135. We have not used a KC-46 on the short-notice side just because it is not approved—they do not have the blanket approval to refuel the aircraft.”
While crews and planners eagerly await the green light to conduct refueling missions, the aircraft is being used for training exercises, weapons integration exercises, aeromedical evacuation exercises, and recently, an extensive tanker exercise. All the training and exercises obviously benefit the flight crews. “The units are able to volunteer,” said Long. “If there’s a mission that we have coming up that they are certified to fly on and refuel the receivers, they are able to volunteer for those. The crews have been doing that a lot more frequently because they want to be more involved in the bigger AMC mission instead of just focusing on the testing.”
A lot of planning goes into preparing for a flight, including continually checking the weather at the destination and ensuring that the fuel supply is sufficient to handle the possibility of a diversion due to hazardous weather. Flight managers continuously monitor the weather and provide updates to the flight crews.
Although the KC-46 is a tanker, like the KC-135 and the KC-10, it is an entirely different aircraft. For example, the KC-46 must adhere to the ETOPS (extended operations) requirement for twin-engine aircraft. When flying over areas of the world with few airports that can be used in an emergency (such as when flying over the ocean), the aircraft must stay within a specific range of a suitable airfield. This is one of many examples of precautions that are strictly adhered to for the aircrews’ safety. Long reflected on the extra measures and said, “You don’t mind doing the extra work when you know it is for a good reason.”
“In September, we had the first oceanic coronet with the KC-46, so that was a big milestone,” Long shared. Long said that she did not participate in the planning for the event; a dedicated Coronet shop within the Air Refueling Directorate took care of all those details. “I am more of the in-between to make sure it keeps going,” she said. “If there are any hurdles, I jump in and figure out how we fix them.”
Although the KC-46 is still relatively new to the fleet, Long thinks that AMC using the plane now helps the AOC prepare for how to use it in the future. It also relieves some of the other airframes that are already tasked for specific uses. Flight crews continue to train on the aircraft, of course, preparing for the much-anticipated day when the KC-46 gets fully certified for tanker missions.