US Air Force KC-46A Performs First Operationally-tasked Combat Refueling Sortie
US Air Force KC-46A Performs First Operationally-tasked Combat Refueling Sortie

US Air Force KC-46A Performs First Operationally-tasked Combat Refueling Sortie

Approximately 100 Airmen and four KC-46A Pegasus aircraft conducted 24-hour operations during Air Mobility Command’s multi-week Employment Concept Exercise 22-08 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, from August 27 through mid-September, 2022. Airmen from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st Air Refueling Wing participated in the ECE, working in two teams to operate around-the-clock, testing the KC-46A’s ability to support real-world missions and assess its capabilities on the path to full-operational status. On Aug. 29, the KC-46A Pegasus completed its first operationally-tasked combat sortie, refueling two F-15E Strike Eagles assigned to the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. All four aircraft operated out of Al Udeid Air Base, with three of the KC-46As focused on completing aerial refueling missions and a fourth aircraft on alert in the event of a grounded aircraft, simultaneously testing the limits of the aircraft in the extreme desert climate. During their time at Al Udeid Air Base, leaders from Ninth Air Force (Air Forces Central), 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and a variety of other squadrons from around the base visited the Air Force’s newest air refueling platform.

“This was my first time flying on the KC-46 and seeing it in action was very impressive. The onboard systems provide great situational awareness of the surrounding area to the crew, and watching the boom operator accomplish air refueling using the remote vision system was equally impressive,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Nelson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander.

“The CENTCOM ECE allowed us to stress-test the KC-46A in an extreme desert environment while completing operational missions in support of a combatant command. The ECEs, coupled with ICR, reflect a risk-informed, data-driven, constraint-analyzed approach to releasing KC-46A operational capabilities to the Joint Force. This ECE gave AMC valuable data needed to meet aircraft-turn times, maintenance requirements, and engineering dispositions, and provided output for air refueling as needed while we continued to refine the aircraft performance parameters. It also allowed AMC to gain a deeper understanding of how best to employ and deploy the KC-46A in future operations,” said Lt. Col. Josh Renfro, AMC KC-46 Cross-Functional Team deputy.

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle assigned to the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flies alongside a McConnell 22nd Air Refueling Wing KC-46A Pegasus Aug. 29, 2022, in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brenden Beezley)

Employment Concept Exercises are a subset of the KC-46A Interim Capability Release plan that allows AMC to employ the KC-46A in different scenarios for further operational employment testing and evaluation. The ECEs allow AMC to rapidly gather actionable data on the KC-46A’s performance in various scenarios, increasing operational capability to the tanker fleet requirements and increased tanker capacity. Over the past 16 months, the KC-46A has demonstrated growing operational capacity at a swift pace. In May 2021, the KC-46A was not cleared to operationally support any U.S. Transportation Command missions. Through the Interim Capability Release plan and dedicated work by members of the growing KC-46A community, the KC-46A is now cleared for worldwide deployments to meet the daily Joint Force air refueling demands as tasked by U.S. Transportation Command.

The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is an American military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft developed by Boeing from its 767 jet airliner. In February 2011, the tanker was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) as the winner in the KC-X tanker competition to replace older Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers. The KC-46 Pegasus is a variant of the Boeing 767 and is a widebody, low-wing cantilever monoplane with a conventional empennage featuring a single fin and rudder. It has a retractable tricycle landing gear and a hydraulic flight control system. The Pegasus is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4062 engines, one mounted under each wing. It has been described as combining “the 767-200ER’s fuselage, with the 767-300F’s wing, gear, cargo door and floor, with the 767-400ER digital flightdeck and flaps”. Survivability is improved with infrared countermeasures and the aircraft has limited electronic warfare capabilities. At the rear of the aircraft is a fly-by-wire refueling boom supplemented by wing air refueling pods at each wingtip and a centerline drogue system under the rear fuselage so it can handle both types of refueling in one mission.

The aircrew from the KC-46A Pegasus’ first combat sortie pose for a group photo Aug. 29, 2022, during Air Mobility Command’s Employment Concept Exercise 22-08 at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The Pegasus and aircrew are participating in the exercise to provide air refueling operations to the U.S. Central Command theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Brenden Beezley)