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KC-46A conducts first operational international aircraft refueling

The KC-46A program hit another major milestone April 18, 2022, when a Pegasus refueled Spanish EF-18 Hornets, known in Spain as C-15s.

The refueling took place during the aircraft’s first Employment Concept Exercise, ECE 22-03, at Moron Air Base, Spain.

This mission marked the first operational refueling of an international receiver for the KC-46A, paving the way for stronger interoperability with Allies and partners.

A Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornet, known in Spain as a C-15, from Trojan Air Base, Spain, pulls away after refueling from a U.S. Air Force KC-46A Pegasus based at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, April 18, 2022. The Spanish fighter is the first international aircraft to be refueled during an operation by the Pegasus. McConnell’s aircrew and four KC-46As were in Spain for the aircraft’s first Employment Concept Exercise, ECE 22-03, which is designed to further operational testing and evaluation, increase proficiency among aircrews and support personnel, and strengthen aircraft sustainment operations. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Nathan Eckert)

“The KC-46A, its aircrews, maintenance and support personnel performed magnificently over the last seven weeks in Spain,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander. “They pushed hard to run the aircraft through its paces during the ECE, including supporting a bomber task force, refueling U.S. fighters over Eastern Europe, and completing the first-ever operational refueling of an international aircraft. AMC continues to drive toward increased refueling capability while working to overcome programmatic challenges.”

According to Brig Gen Ryan Samuelson, AMC’s KC-46A Cross Functional Team lead, the Interim Capability Release plan, of which the ECE is a part, has significantly enhanced KC-46A operations over the last 10 months.

“The Pegasus is now cleared to support nearly 85 percent of joint force receivers requesting air refueling from U.S. Transportation Command,” said Samuelson. “ While the ICR brought on KC-46 mission capabilities, the ECE will now operationalize those capabilities across a spectrum of mission scenarios.”

AMC introduced the second phase of ICR on March 10, when Minihan approved the employment of four KC-46As and approximately 220 Active, Guard and Reserve Airmen to Moron AB to conduct the first of a series of ECEs designed to enhance operational fielding and sustainment of the KC-46A.

Throughout ECE 22-03, aircraft and personnel remained under AMC authorities as they validated desired learning objectives and prepared to support theater operational missions as required. The KC-46A ICR plan allows the Pegasus to conduct operational taskings that would otherwise be filled by the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender aircraft, increasing the force’s air refueling capacity and further seasoning total force Pegasus aircrews with operational missions.

The mission also provided an opportunity to build relations with its Spanish hosts and showcase what the Pegasus can bring to international operations with Allies and partners.

Despite existing restrictions and deficiencies, the KC-46A continues to demonstrate its growing operational capabilities. The Pegasus offloaded more than 78 million pounds of fuel and completed more than 34,900 boom and 2,200 drogue contacts since January 2019.

As of April 26, the Air Force has 57 KC-46As in its inventory. The KC-46A currently operates out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas; Seymour Johnson Air Reserve Base, N.C.; Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.; Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J.; and Altus Air Force Base, Okla.

Moran Air Base commander, Spanish Air Force Col. Enrique Fernandez Ambel, observes as U.S. Air Force Capt. Steven Strickland, 344th Air Refueling Squadron KC-46A Pegasus instructor pilot, approaches to receive fuel during an orientation flight April 18, 2022. Spanish commanders joined the flight to familiarize themselves with U.S. tanker operations and witness the first-ever Pegasus refueling of an international aircraft during an operation, a Spanish EF-18 Hornet, also known in Spain as a C-15. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sgt. Nathan Eckert)
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