The U.S. Air Force’s first two KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling taker aircraft have arrived at the McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas on Jan. 25.
The 22nd Air Refueling Wing and 931st ARW marshalled in the newest addition to the Air Force’s strategic arsenal.
“This day will go down in history as a win for Team McConnell and the Air Force as a whole,” said Col. Josh Olson, 22nd ARW commander. “With this aircraft, McConnell will touch the entire planet.”
Since being selected as the first Main Operating Base in 2014, McConnell Airmen have been preparing to ensure their readiness to receive the Air Force’s newest aircraft.
Contractors constructed three new KC-46 maintenance hangars, technical training dormitories, an air traffic control tower, fuselage trainer and many other facilities specifically for the Pegasus’ arrival. These projects brought $267 million to the local economy by employing Kansas workers and using local resources.
Aircrew members simulated KC-46 flights, boom operators practiced cargo loading and the 22nd Maintenance Group created a training timeline for the enterprise.
Working with aircraft manufacturer Boeing, McConnell maintenance Airmen have been developing new technical orders for three years. They streamlined processes and got hands-on exposure to the jet in Seattle.
“Some of us have been involved in this program for years and it has given us time to become experts as far as the technical data goes,” said Staff Sgt. Brannon Burch, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron KC-46 flying crew chief. “Knowing it is one thing, but having hands-on experience on our flightline is what we all crave. We’re just happy the wait’s over, and we finally get to get our hands dirty on the Pegasus – It’s almost surreal.”
The KC-46 team at McConnell is comprised of Airmen with a variety of backgrounds from other aircraft who bring different aspects of expertise to the multi-faceted new tanker.
“Every Airman who was transferred to the KC-46 team was hand-selected specifically to bring this airplane to the fight,” said Lt. Col. Wesley Spurlock, 344th Air Refueling Squadron commander. “They are versatile maintainers, pilots and boom operators who are prepared for any learning curve that comes with a new aircraft.”
The active duty 344th ARS, and Air Force Reserve 924th ARS, will be the first units in the military to operationally fly the KC-46.
“This airplane has a wide variety of capabilities that we haven’t seen here before,” said Spurlock. “We’re going to get our hands on it, then expand on those abilities and see how we can employ them operationally.”
Once Airmen in the Total Force squadrons have perfected their craft on the new aircraft, they will pave the way for the entire KC-46 enterprise and other bases receiving the aircraft in the future by developing tactics, techniques and procedures to share with those units.
“I have never been a part of a unit that is more excited about the mission before them and the legacy they’re going to leave,” said Spurlock.
Today, the waiting ends and integration begins for the next generation of air mobility that will be a linchpin of national defense, global humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations for decades to come.
“For those of us who have spent years watching this process happen, it’s enormously humbling to finally see it come to a close,” said Col. Phil Heseltine, 931st ARW commander. “We are grateful to everyone who is joining us as we fulfill the potential of this amazing new aircraft.
“We are honoring the rich culture that we have been gifted by those who came before us,” said Heseltine. “That culture continues today. For example, the forward fuselage section of the KC-46 is built by Spirit AeroSystems right here in Wichita. This aircraft literally came home today.”
With the KC-46 on the ground at McConnell, the Air Force will begin the next phases of familiarization and initial operations testing and evaluation.
“McConnell Air Force Base is ready!” said Olson.
Airman 1st Class Michaela R. Slanchik, 22nd Air Refueling Wing