This summer, the 344th Air Refueling Squadron, the Air Force's first active-duty KC-46A Pegasus operational flying squadron, will soon be ready for Initial Operations Test and Evaluation.
The squadron wasn’t officially converted to a KC-46 squadron until April 1, but aircrew in the squadron have been rotating in and out of training since fall of 2016. This is a big step for both McConnell and the Air Force.
“McConnell is setting the tone and expectations for the rest of the Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Jerry Bennett, 344th ARS commander. “We have a unique opportunity to benchmark countless processes and programs, not only for future Main Operating Bases, but for the entire Air Force.”
It takes each pilot and boom operator approximately three months of training to be considered qualified. This includes aircraft familiarization and time in flight simulators.
“The KC-46 has the ability to act as a multi-role tanker,” said Maj. Peter Merrill, 344th ARS assistant director of operations. “It will have the capability to carry cargo and refuel, and its state-of-the-art on-board system is a giant leap from current airframes.”
The squadron will have pilots and boom operators ready by the start of the summer, but they’re not the only ones working to get ready for the new aircraft.
“It is simply not possible to employ the KC-46 without an entire support structure,” added Bennett. “From maintainers to medical Airmen, operations will rely heavily on the support infrastructure to prepare and execute combat and non-combat operations.”
Of the 14 pilots and seven boom operators from the 344th ARS who were hand selected to attend the training, there is a mixture of different aircraft backgrounds among them.
The 344th ARS is not the only squadron currently being trained on the KC-46, there are also six pilots and three boom operators who are from the Air Force Reserve and two pilots and one boom operator who are from the Air National Guard.
“Like nearly everything these days, most of it isn’t possible without the help of our Reserve and Guard partners,” Merrill added. “They are an integral part of the McConnell KC-46 program and have been key actors in the planning process since the beginning. We will be operating the KC-46 together once it arrives, so it is only natural that we train together.”
When the pilots return from training, along with Altus Air Force Base these pilots and boom operators will be officially responsible for getting each pilot who will be assigned to the KC-46 trained and ready for flight.
“This is a huge responsibility for us,” said Merrill. “We realize that many of the decisions and procedures we develop over the next couple of years will help shape the KC-46 for years to come. McConnell is the pioneer of this new aircraft, and the entire team looks forward to developing and making the newest Air Force asset a total success.”