On June 4, 2019, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, flew its first flight as part of the KC-46 Pegasus initial test and evaluation period.
This sortie verified normal operation checklists as well as the utilizations of the air refueling systems.
During the flight, aircrew assigned to the 344th Air Refueling Squadron refueled two F-16 Fighting Falcons four times while successfully offloading approximately 29,000 pounds of fuel.
“We were validating boom air refueling with F-16s,” said Capt. Christopher Cahill, 344th ARS KC-46 IOT&E instructor pilot.
It took a combined effort from the pilot and the boom operator to meet the test objectives set by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center.
“We were testing the processes and procedures to make sure that they were validated and adequate,” said Cahill. “We were looking for, basically, positive outcomes — run the checklist, confirm that it was completed and done appropriately, and that the jet responded accordingly.”
Normal operating procedures consisted of pre-flight checks, tanker contact preparation, air refueling, refueling F-16 receivers, post-air refueling and post-landing checks. Master Sgt. Devin Kay, 344th ARS operations superintendent, mentioned that these checklists were specified by AFOTEC to collect tangible and measurable data. The KC-46 aircrew also filled out surveys to provide information on any positive or negative effects about the refueling process or equipment use.
“We are also validating and verifying — not only normal operations, but if we were to have a non-normal [situation], those checklists also,” said Kay. “Anything that would affect the way the aircraft is operating, we’re validating all of those things.”
The data points gathered are then implemented in future IOT&E flights.
Each IOT&E sortie lays a foundation for the next flight. For example, now that refueling was done with F-16s during the day, the next test could occur at night, Kay explained. He also mentioned while this flight concentrated on refueling and normal operations, others could be centralized on air refueling with cargo, passengers or both.
“[The tests] start off small obviously, and then they just slowly get more and more complicated as they go,” said Kay.
The 344th ARS is scheduled to complete multiple test flights as IOT&E continues. The flights are planned to include a variety of receivers, even the KC-46 itself. On June 7, the 344th ARS implemented the information from the first sortie into the second flight with the new aircraft successfully receiving fuel from another KC-46, which was also a success.
Team McConnell continues to lead the way with the introduction and implementation of the Air Force’s newest major weapons system. As the 344th ARS continues to fly the KC-46 during IOT&E, it will bring the aircraft closer to being fully operational.