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The Future is Now, First KC-46 Arrives at SJAFB

  • Published
  • By Ashley L. Snipes
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — The 916th Air Refueling Wing has an aircraft on the ramp once again, as the wing accepted its first of twelve KC-46A Pegasus aircraft, marking the occasion in a closed ceremony, June 12. 

Chief of the Air Force Reserve and Commander, Air Force Reserve Command, Lt. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, and his senior enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sgt. Timothy C. White Jr. served as delivery officials and were on board the aircraft as it arrived. 

“This KC-46A delivery is a great example of how we are reforming our Air Force Reserve and transitioning to the next generation of air power,” said Scobee. “Being able to be here with you for the delivery of your first KC-46A Pegasus is an honor and really special for me during these trying times.”

Col. Stephen Lanier, commander, 916th ARW, was ecstatic to welcome home his 77th Air Refueling Squadron crew.  The closed ceremony marked the dawning of a new era for the service men and women who serve in the 916th ARW. 

“As the first unit equipped Air Force Reserve wing to receive the KC-46A, we are poised to leverage our deep knowledge and experience to realize the capabilities that are inherent in the KC-46A: air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and airlift, as well as the ability to operate in contested environments,” said Lanier. 

The occasion was the culmination of months of preparing for conversion. However, the 916th ARW and its subordinate unit, the 77th Air Refueling Squadron, cherished the last moments it had with the KC-135R Stratotanker. 

“A large portion of the squadron went on the last unit deployment to Turkey,” said Lt. Col. Darin Dial, commander, 77th ARS.  “We then flew several U.S. Air Forces, Europe tanker support rotations, and topped off KC-135R operations with a temporary duty to Puerto Rico and Savannah, Georgia.” 

The 77th ARS also helped secure $1.7 billion of combat assets during last year’s hurricane evacuations.

“The last 12 months leading up to the arrival of the first KC-46A has been a memorable year,” said Dial.

While the wing continuously supported sorties, Airmen started conversion training from the KC-135R to the KC-46A last winter. 

“In December we sent our first crew to Altus Air Force Base, Okla. for KC-46A training,” said Dial. “Since then we’ve continued to send pilots and boom operators to Altus and McConnell Air Force Base Kan., for KC-46A qualification training.”

The maintainers have also been hard at work learning the nuances of accepting and operating a new aircraft.

 “The KC-46A is completely different than the 63 plus year-old-aircraft we had been previously working on, and very little of our KC-135R equipment was able to be used to repair and fly the [new air frame],” remarked Chief Master Sgt. Michael Birmingham, superintendent, 916th Maintenance Squadron. “We are currently in the process of divesting over 600 pieces of KC-135R tools and test equipment that cannot be used on the KC-46A.  The other side of that is we required over 2500 new pieces of equipment, designed specifically for the KC-46A.”
Along with conversion training, the maintainers also learned about Federal Aviation Administration regulations. 

“This will be the first aerial refueling aircraft to meet all FAA Requirements as well as those set forth by the Air Force,” said Birmingham.  “In the training they learned how to complete documentation in accordance with FAA regulations on a dual certified aircraft, when aircraft system maintenance or modifications need to be accomplished.”

In the first 72 hours at its new home, each KC-46A will have to undergo a rigorous inspection to ensure every piece the factory installed made it from the assembly floor to Seymour Johnson. 

“This inspection requires 916th technicians to inspect and record every major component’s serial number.  Our maintainers will also open panels and complete serviceability inspections to make sure every system operates per Boeing, Air Force and FAA technical requirements,” said Birmingham. 

The 916th ARW is scheduled to receive 12 total aircraft over the next year through the end of 2021. Seymour Johnson is the fourth base to receive the KC-46A; McConnell, received the first in January 2019, followed by Altus, in February 2019, and Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. in August 2019. 

Dial added, “It’s a rare opportunity to deliver a new aircraft to the USAF. The crews feel privileged to take part in this historic moment for the Wing.”