Boeing’s KC-46A Pegasus tanker completed its first in-flight refueling on January 24, when it transferred fuel to an F-16 aircraft, marking a key program milestone and paving the way for a U.S. Air Force production decision in the coming months. “Today’s flight is an important milestone for the Air Force/Boeing team because it kicks off the Milestone C aerial refueling demonstration, which is the prerequisite for the low-rate initial production decision,” said Col. Christopher Coombs, the U.S. Air Force's KC-46 system program manager. “We have a lot of work yet to do, but this is an exciting time for the airmen who are preparing to fly, maintain and support the KC-46 Pegasus for decades to come.”
After takeoff from Boeing Field in Seattle, the tanker aircrew — made up of both Boeing and Air Force personnel — conducted a series of pre-refueling checkpoints working with an F-16 fighter flying out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
During the five-hour, 43-minute flight, Boeing and Air Force air refueling operators aboard the KC-46 accomplished multiple contacts with the F-16 aircraft before smoothly offloading 1,600 pounds (725 kilograms, or about 240 gallons) of fuel.
Master Sgt. Lindsay Moon, U.S. Air Force KC-46 air refueling operator, “flew” the tanker’s 56-foot (17-meter) boom downward and extended it into the F-16 refueling receptacle. When the fuel transfer was complete, the system automatically turned off the pumps, and Moon, sitting in the plane’s state-of-the-art air refueling operator station, smoothly retracted the boom.
Rickey Kahler, Boeing Test & Evaluation’s KC-46 air refueling operator, shared in the historic event by accomplishing numerous contacts with the receiver aircraft during the flight.
“The refueling boom’s handling qualities were exceptional,” Kahler said. “The boom was extremely stable — it handled like it was an extension of my arm.”
U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col Daniel Alix, who flew the receiver F-16, echoed Kahler’s comments and said the first contact went smoother than expected. “The fuel transfer was rock solid; it was very easy to connect and stay connected to the boom."
“Today’s flight is an essential step forward and begins our Milestone C testing that will lead to a low rate initial production decision this spring,” said Tim Peters, Boeing KC-46 program manager. “The ability of BDS Development to execute on key programs enables us to continue to leverage and learn from the One Boeing teams.”
The KC-46A that accomplished Sunday’s refueling milestone soon will begin refueling a number of other military aircraft as well, including a C-17, F/A-18, A-10 and AV-8B. Also known as EMD-2, the tanker made its first flight Sept. 25, 2015, and has completed 32 flights.
By Kym Vandlac