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McConnell crews complete first local flights, refueling

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Bernal Del Agua
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. — The anticipation toward the KC-46A Pegasus arrival has been building since it was announced that McConnell would be the first main operating base to house the Air Force’s newest weapon system.

Fast forward to 2019, and the KC-46 has started to fly around the Midwest skies. On Feb. 26 and 27, 344th and 924th Air Refueling Squadrons crews flew two aircraft on local sorties. The Feb. 26 crew refueled a C-17 Globemaster III, marking the first time the KC-46 has accomplished air refueling since the Air Force took charge of the new aircraft on Jan. 25.


“I’m humbled and honored to be part of something that happens once in a generation,” said Capt. Andrew Kim, 344th ARS pilot. “I’m excited to be part of the team that will set the precedence on how this new weapons system will be employed in the future.”

The Total Force crews included members from the 931st and the 22nd Air Refueling Wings.

“It's kind of a crawl, walk, run for us in this familiarization period as we lead up to the initial operations test," said Maj. Chris Markley, 18th ARS pilot. "So, we're going to fly a couple times a week initially and then we'll really start turning all four of these airplanes and get them all airborne.”

They are currently in the familiarization period with the Pegasus, and the process is expected to move on to the next phase within the next two months.

“It’s exciting to have access to the newest aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory and have the opportunity to literally write the books on how to operate it,” said Maj. Patrick Montag, 344th ARS assistant director of operations. “It can be frustrating at times, however, because progress happens in fits and starts. It takes discipline from the whole team to remember that our job is to do this right, not necessarily to do it fast or just get it done.”

Due to cold weather the second flight was delayed, but the unexpected trouble gave crews another chance to figure out how to handle the new aircraft, both from aircrew and maintenance perspectives.

“We gathered a lot of data points and solidified several techniques and procedures to pass along to the future crews to better employ this aircraft,” Kim said.

Kim, a prior KC-135 Stratotanker pilot, completed his first ever flight on a KC-46, called a dollar ride, combining it with one of the first flights for the new aircraft locally.

 “The KC-46 is a completely different aircraft from the KC-135, so everything from how we complete checklists to how the aircraft flies is different from the legacy aircraft,” said Kim.

The Pegasus is the newest refueler for the Air Force since the KC-10 Extender entered service 40 years ago. Montag wanted to be there at the inception of the KC-46 to guide its progress.

“I’ve learned that it’s very difficult for those outside of our unit to understand what it’s like to be in our shoes,” Montag commented. “Communication becomes difficult because we don’t have common ground to fall back on when trying to describe problems or opportunities. Despite those challenges though, I think it’s been a great experience. When I first heard about this opportunity back in 2014, I knew it as something I was going to try to be a part of.

“All we can do is try our best to learn as much as we can about how the systems work, and try our best to think through and plan for the different contingencies that can happen when we are flying,” said Montag. “The flights have been exciting and challenging, and we’ve experienced countless surprises. In the end, we succeed or fail based off of our judgement as professional aviators.”

After the flight, aircraft maintenance Airmen marshaled the aircraft on to its next step toward operational readiness.