Refueling the fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan.—The KC-46A Pegasus has come a long way since being accepted by the Air Force in January 2019. After its arrival, the KC-46 and the Airmen of McConnell have completed various stages of familiarization training, which helped educate the Air Force’s future KC-46 installation by developing new techniques and integration plans. This training has enabled Team McConnell to begin operationally refueling.


But, what is it like to be a boom operator strategically linking up the boom to give fuel to pilots all over the world? Or to be a pilot receiving fuel from the KC-46 during a mission?


Master Sgt. Edward Soto, 344th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, has been a boom operator for 17 years, and has been in the Air Force for 18 years.


“I feel very fortunate to be able to operate on the KC-46,” said Soto. “It’s not often an aircrew member will get the chance to bring a new aircraft on line for the Air Force. This is a chance for me to carry on the boom operator legacy into the future.”


The addition of this new aircraft to the tanker fleet is vital — not only to the refueling bases, but also to the refueling mission as a whole. Currently, McConnell’s main source of refueling comes from the KC-135 Statotanker. This aircraft can hold a capacity of 200,000 pounds of fuel for transfer, while the KC-46 holds 212,299 pounds of fuel.


“I was very excited to go up and be one of the first pilots to receive fuel from the KC-46,” said Capt. William Cuchens, 437th Operations Group senior special operations low level II evaluator pilot. “It was a great opportunity to be the first C-17 [Globemaster III] pilot to receive fuel from the KC-46.”


During this flight, the KC-46 delivered approximately 1,000 pounds of fuel to the C-17 and its crew. The difference between other refuel capable aircraft and the KC-46 isn’t just the amount of fuel it can carry, but also how the fuel is delivered. The new aircraft does not have a boom pod like other tankers. This aircraft has a Remote Vision System for the boom operators to successfully refuel other aircraft.


This system allows boom operators to see through a camera while refueling instead of laying in the back of the aircraft and trying to make the plug with their eyes.


 “Not only was the KC-46 one of the most stable platforms to refuel from, it was also the smoothest plug I have ever seen while being refueled,” explained Cuchens.


When the tankers are refueling, the plug plays a huge part in the success of the mission. When boom operators are controlling the boom to transfer gas they must be extremely careful to not damage either aircraft. One wrong move and the boom could be damaged along with the other aircraft. Once done successfully, the boom is plugged into the other aircraft allowing it to be refueled.


With the advances of the new aircraft come the advances of air refueling as a whole. The KC-46 is the future of air refueling and the steps the Air Force has taken has brought the aircraft even closer to full operational readiness.