Fueling America’s tanker
A partnership of Boeing employees and hundreds of suppliers from across the country build the KC-46A Pegasus to be the world’s most advanced multi-mission aerial refueler for the U.S. Air Force and allies.
More than 37,000 American workers and 650 small businesses in 43 states supply the thousands of components needed to build the KC-46A Pegasus. From Huntington Beach, California, to St. Petersburg, Florida, each worker and each business can take pride in fueling the global mission for the service members who depend on them.
Filled with pride
“It always gives me goosebumps, every time,” said Gilles Aouizerat, CEO of California-based Pacific Component Xchange, when asked what his company’s role in supporting the program means to him. Aouizerat founded his small business out of his parents’ spare bedroom 30 years ago.
“There is nothing better that I can do,” concurred Jean Petoia, a quality assurance engineer for Florida-based Sensor Systems, which makes a pressure sensor for the tanker’s refueling boom. “We are a part of the country’s process, progress and standing in the world.”
“We all take a personal pride to knowing that we're supporting the warfighter and making sure that they come home safely,” said Frank Bagnasco, co-founder of Nasco Aerospace and Electronics. Frank and his younger brother, Rick, operate their small business of about 100 employees in a Historically Underutilized Business Zone, or HUBZone, in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Fueling a global mission
The U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command cleared the KC-46A Pegasus for worldwide deployments – including combat operations – in September 2022. For the thousands of Americans who support the program, continuing to outfit the tanker with next-generation capabilities to deliver fuel, as well as cargo, passenger, aeromedical transportation capability and data connectivity to the battlespace is critical.
“Playing a small part to make sure the tools are available to keep our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters safe while they’re doing their jobs – it really is important to me,” said Paul Luccio, general manager of Washington-based Farwest Aircraft, which supplies ground support equipment and maintenance tooling for the KC-46A.
Under the same roof, electrical assembly technician Steve Marcil gives back to the men and women he once served alongside. The U.S. Air Force veteran worked as a maintainer during his 12-year service career. Now, he builds and tests electrical ground support equipment for the KC-46A Pegasus.
“My personal goal is to make sure that all of the ground support equipment that we build here is the best stuff that all of the flight line maintainers in the Air Force could need,” Marcil continued, “because it’s their job to make sure the KC-46A is mission-ready for all of its Global Reach missions.”
“I’m a very, very strong supporter of all the servicemen, so it makes me very proud to know that this equipment is going out to help them accomplish their mission,” said Elvis Gonzalez of California-based Advanced Ground Systems Engineering, which makes a shipping stand for the tanker’s Pratt & Whitney PW4062 engines.
“We’re just grateful that we can be – even a small part – of a program that helps our military in any way to protect and defend our country,” Advanced Ground Systems Engineering president and CEO Diane Henderson said. “That makes us more proud than anything.”
Playing their part by supplying their part
No matter how big or small a component may be, each KC-46 supplier knows their contribution helps keep the world’s most advanced aerial refueler in the sky.
“You see anything from the KC-46 program, I had a part in building that,” said Lori Heric, director of operations and finance for Washington-based PSI Solutions. Founded out of CEO Tad Papineau’s garage nearly three decades ago, this small business supports the tanker in multiple facets of production, including ramp test equipment and hydraulic power supplies.
Farwest Aircraft president and COO Frank Gutfrucht emphasized how important the aircraft is to the lifeblood of his company.
“We care about this program. It means security for our employees. It means a future for our employees,” Gutfrucht said. “And it also means continued development and growth for our company and our suppliers as well.”
Standing in the Pacific Component Xchange warehouse – where each KC-46A part undergoes a multi-step quality inspection before being shipped to Everett, Washington – distribution manager and Marine Corps veteran Craig Lipscomb proudly holds a gas detector kit that will help keep service members safe in the field.
“This is our part and it’s an honor and a privilege that Pacific Component Xchange gets to be a part of that,” Lipscomb said.
Putting it all together
Once the parts arrive in Everett, supplier program manager Bill Goggins and procurement agent Troy Montgomery – both Marine Corps veterans – get to see the tanker come alive.
“Whenever I walk out into the factory floor, it’s like watching magic happen,” Goggins said. “To think all of these components – thousands of components – have to be integrated into the airplane, work together and do what they’re designed to do is just amazing.
“Our suppliers see that and they want to be a part of that. And it’s why I really enjoy coming into work each day,” he said.
“I have suppliers in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and California. I have suppliers in Texas. I have suppliers just down the street here in Washington state,” Montgomery said. “The KC-46A is made all over the country. It’s truly an American-made aircraft.”