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916th ARW opens its doors to the next generation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mary McKnight
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The 916th Air Refueling Wing welcomed back its first two pilots to complete KC-46A Pegasus training.

Capt. Joseph “Mike” Orzeck, a 77th Air Refueling Squadron pilot, was the first pilot to complete training on the KC-46 and Maj. Nathan Rodriguez was the second to complete the training from January – March 2020.

Transitioning to a new aircraft after exclusively flying the KC-135 Stratotanker brought about mixed emotions for the two pilots. 

“You’re excited to learn a new aircraft, but at the same time it’s sad that you’re leaving a plane like the KC-135,” said Orzeck. “I felt honored to fly a plane like that; you don’t fly with cables and pulleys, there’s not many four engine jets out there anymore, it’s definitely a last of its kind, it was bittersweet.”

Orzeck described cross training to the KC-46 as a poignant moment, he flew three tours in the KC-135, his last tour being his first flying as command pilot.

 “When I was able to train on the KC-46 and started flying it, I was like this is the “sweetest” airplane,” said Orzeck. “It’s so nice to fly, it’s so easy to fly and it’s very comfortable.”

Both pilots found that learning to receive fuel from another aircraft was not easy. The KC-135 was not equipped to receive fuel and therefore both pilots had to learn to receive fuel.

“I have a brand-new appreciation for the guys that flew behind me (receiver pilots) when I flew as a tanker pilot,” said Rodriguez. “When the tanker pilot makes corrections, it makes a big difference to the receiver in the back. It gives me a new appreciation for guys that refuel off me. I think it makes you a better tanker pilot to do receiver work.”

The mission of the 916 ARW is to Provide Rapid Refueling, On Time, Every Time, not the other way around.  

“At Seymour our 135’s (KC-135) didn’t receive,” said Orzeck. “During training we actually played the role of a receiver and had to get contacts (refueled) from a tanker. On my check ride (training check points), I received fuel from a KC-135.”

During their 10 weeks of training on the KC-46 the pilots couldn’t get enough of the new technology that comes along with this new aircraft.

It’s a huge step up as far as technology and automation, said Rodriguez. 

Orzeck seconds Rodriguez’s opinion.

I love the KC-135, you’re going from a plane with 1950’s technology and jumping to a plane in the 21st century when flying the KC-46. It’s like going from watching a black and white TV to a smart TV, you can’t compare the two, said Orzeck.

With two pilots down and approximately 38 to go, the 916th has opened its doors to the next generation of air refueling.