MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- When you think of any movie with military pilots, you usually only see the aviator stepping out to the jet, running a quick pre-flight checklist, then taking to the skies.
The truth is, only a small portion of flying is the actual flight. There are many hours of planning and preparation behind the scenes with many other agencies on base.
Backstage, maintenance is working long hours to prepare the aircraft, military flight orders have to be issued, fuel and cargo loaded, flight plans primed, and sometimes, the crews run into maintenance issues that cause delays. Then, after each flight, aircrews debrief on any lessons learned and ensure all objectives were accomplished.
While still getting familiar with the KC-46A Pegasus and the new capabilities with it, there are many unknowns for the aircrew. The Air Force has implemented a four-stage approach for integrating the KC-46 to help with this. First is the familiarization phase, next initial operations test and evaluations will be completed, then initial operational capability, before the aircrew is considered to be in the fourth phase of full operational capability.
As part of this familiarization period, the 344th Air Refueling Squadron facilitated its fifth “KC-46 Day in the Life” on Feb. 13. The first was simulated in December of 2018, followed by a hands-on practice with the Pegasus in January of 2019 in efforts of proactively working out any potential kinks in integrating McConnell’s past mission processes with the new aircraft.
“The KC-46 has brought capabilities never before seen here on McConnell or even Air Mobility Command,” said Capt. Jason Pravitz, 344th Air Refueling Squadron standardization and evaluations. “The increased capabilities, technologies and systems require exponentially more planning, equipment and people to employ the aircraft to its maximum potential.”
The exercises also timed crew and base support agency’s ability to adapt to the dynamic nature of the expanded missions.
“Today we proved that there is nothing that will stop our crew from taking the KC-46 up to fly,” said Capt. Andrew Kim, 344th air Refueling Squadron, pilot initial operation test and evaluation. “This will be important once we begin local flights.”
The day of the simulated flights, the aircrew completed day-of planning tasks, signed out communication security equipment, night vision goggles or any other mission-necessary gear. With equipment in-hand, the crew loaded up and stepped to the jet.
The pilots administered all applicable checklists up to engine start. Injects were placed strategically throughout the day to test crews abilities to support plan changes.
After the “flight,” all players debriefed and established lessons learned as well as highlight successful processes.
“All agencies here are truly moving forward as a team,” said Pravitz. “We continuously feedback lessons learned to each other locally here at McConnell, to Air Mobility Command and to the Enterprise of future Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve main operating bases.”
Although McConnell was the first to receive the Pegasus followed by Altus, Pease, Seymour Johnson, Travis and McGuire all expect to receive the new weapon system in the near future. McConnell’s KC-46 team is vigorously paving the way to introduce the new aircraft for future operating bases.