On a Wednesday in early August, Airmen from the 157th Air Refueling Wing took off from Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire. They would not touch down again for more than 22-hours, in one of the longest KC-46 flights in history.
As explained by Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson, 157th Air Refueling Wing, in the article New Hampshire Air Guard performs KC-46 Endurance Flight, the mission, dubbed a super sortie, tested critical KC-46 operating systems, while executing heavy on-loads and off-loads of fuel with multiple aircraft types. It also demonstrated the ability to seamlessly interchange multiple flight crews over a long period of time.
During the mission, which took place Aug. 3-4, 2022 Airmen conducted multiple aerial refueling and receiving operations over the east coast of the US, as well as Canada. The crew then flew to Alaska to participate in Exercise Red Flag, an aerial combat training hosted by the US Air Force, before traveling across the Pacific Ocean to Saipan.
Crewing the mission were seven pilots, two boom operators, six maintainers, a physician’s assistant and a photojournalist, all with the New Hampshire Air National Guard. Rather than adhering to a rigid hourly schedule, the pilots distributed the flying workload between themselves on an as-needed basis, guaranteeing that they all had adequate rest to complete the mission.
The length of the flight allowed the Airmen the opportunity to fully test the crew amenities on the KC-46. They prepared and consumed meals with the ability to heat & refrigerate food; they slept in bunks at regular intervals; they maintained hygiene with the use of running water and lavatory services; and they regulated the temperature on board the airplane, assuring crew comfort throughout the entire flight.
“The knowledge gained throughout this sortie will help the KC-46 community grow its tactical footprint,” said Maj. Chris Williams, a KC-46 pilot with the 157 ARW. “It was truly an honor to be a part of it.”
The Pease KC-46 started the mission by refueling four F-15s from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, off the coast of New England, before receiving fuel from a KC-135 from Pittsburgh Air National Guard Base, Pennsylvania. It then rendezvoused with a KC-135 from the Maine Air National Guard, which repeatedly refueled the jet as it turned northeast towards Bangor, Maine.
While flying over central and western Canada, the KC-46 received multiple on-loads of fuel from a companion KC-46 from Pease. This additional fuel gave the aircraft the surplus load it needed to successfully continue on to the Red Flag exercise in Alaska, and ultimately to its final destination of Saipan.
“This mission was awesome for all of us who’ve been trying to figure out the ins-and-outs of this new airplane,” said Capt. Josh Stewart, a KC-46 pilot.
During the sortie, the Airmen also became the first KC-46 crew in history to stand up a mission planning center, or MPC, on board the airframe. Thanks to the diligent work and technical acumen of two of the crew members, the MPC provided access to real-time, mission-critical planning data in flight, from anywhere in the world. The standup of the MPC marked a major tactical milestone, one that will be utilized in future KC-46 missions.
“We were able to demonstrate one hundred percent mission system capability,” said Maj. Bill Daley, KC-46 pilot and Mission Planning Cell chief.
The KC-46 is the Air Force’s newest aerial refueling platform. It is capable of holding up to 212,299 lbs of fuel, and can also be used for cargo lift and aeromedical evacuations.
The KC-46A represents the beginning of a new era in air-to-air refueling capability for the joint force. The aircraft has been in development since Feb. 24, 2011, and its initial flight occurred in Dec. 2014.
The KC-46A is the first phase in recapitalizing the US Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. With greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities compared to the KC-135, the KC-46A will provide next generation aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.
The first KC-46A was delivered to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas on Jan. 25, 2019.
Pease Air National Guard Base is the first in the Air National Guard to fly the new jet and is home to 12 of the new planes.
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson and Staff Sgt. Timothy Hayden / U.S. Air Force
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