PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. –
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, one of the longest KC-46 flights in history.
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, airmen conducted multiple aerial refueling and receiving operations over the east coast of the United States, as well as Canada. The crew then flew to Alaska to participate in Exercise Red Flag, an aerial combat training hosted by the U.S. 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 guardsmen 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, 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. 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.
“I’m incredibly proud of the 157th Air Refueling Wing,” said Daley. “This was a complete team effort to make everything work.”