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McConnell to begin IOT&E for KC-46

Master Sgt. Arenda Jackson, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals the KC-46A Pegasus on the flightline Feb. 21, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base Kan. The first KC-46 was delivered to McConnell Jan. 25, 2019. The Air Mobility Command will operate 179 KC-46s distributed to multiple bases across the Air Force. The aircraft is equipped for passengers, aeromedical evacuation and cargo capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

Master Sgt. Arenda Jackson, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshals the KC-46A Pegasus on the flightline Feb. 21, 2019, at McConnell Air Force Base Kan. The first KC-46 was delivered to McConnell Jan. 25, 2019. The Air Mobility Command will operate 179 KC-46s distributed to multiple bases across the Air Force. The aircraft is equipped for passengers, aeromedical evacuation and cargo capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- McConnell will be entering a vital phase on June 3, to bring the KC-46 closer to being fully operational. The phase, initial test and evaluation period (IOT&E), analyzes several receivers, different climates and overseas locations to provide information on the limits and abilities of the new aircraft.

Col. Thad Middleton, 22nd Air Refueling Wing program integration office chief, explained that IOT&E is a period that allows McConnell Airmen to utilize their KC-46 training and demonstrate both the aircraft and maintenance capabilities for executing multiple mission sets.

“This is merely an opportunity for the Air Force to take a snapshot to see how well this aircraft is performing and also to see how well our training programs have prepared us to take the aircraft and put it out in the system and start using it as we need it,” said Middleton.

Middleton explained that after the IOT&E process the team should be able to identify any shortcomings that might have been associated with training or the aircraft itself. He continued to state that the desire is to fix any challenges early, so that they are able to complete the desired missions and employ the aircraft as required.

Units involved with the KC-46 will be executing the operational test developed by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC). AFOTEC works with their Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron (AMC TES) partners and are able to adapt content based on McConnell’s feedback. The 22nd Air Refueling Wing is currently hosting the combined AFOTEC/AMC TES team from Edwards Air Force Base, California and their Seattle, Washington operating location.

“We do this to inform acquisition decision makers, high level DOD leadership, as well as MAJCOM leadership and combatant commanders, about the capability of the aircraft,” said Mark Taylor, AFOTEC Det 5, KC-46 operational, test and evaluation team Test Director. “We define that capability in terms of effectiveness and suitability.”

The aircraft’s effectiveness is measured by its operational performance, which includes air refueling, cargo movement and aeromedical evacuations.

“The aircraft, primarily [having] an air refueling capability, also has other capabilities along with it,” said Middleton. “So [IOT&E] is to ensure that we have our crews trained to maximize those systems on the aircraft to provide situational awareness to broader warfighters.”

The goal is to use tactics, techniques and procedures, which are tailored during IOT&E. The reports will help prepare the Air Force and future squadrons for the addition of the KC-46 to the refueling fleet.

“We look to identify the operational deficiencies as well as the strengths,” said Taylor.

Multiple receivers are planned to be involved in the operational testing process, both small and large, to vary test factors. Test receivers like the F-15 Eagle or C-5 Galaxy platforms are optimal because of dissimilar refueling receptacles and differing color schemes.

Suitability is another aspect being tested during the IOT&E period. A cadre of aircraft maintainers trained on the KC-46 will employ their new skillsets to determine how the KC-46 will be maintained and logistically supported far away from main operating base support equipment and supply lines.

“Suitability is a big deal, because we need to be able to maintain and logistically supply this aircraft worldwide,” said Taylor.

Taylor expressed the importance of receiving the 344th Air Refueling Squadron aircrew’s recommendations, views and information on the operational performances of the KC-46 during missions. The 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s green aircraft maintenance unit will provide critical information regarding support equipment, special tools/fixtures and ease of maintenance as part of determining the suitability of the new aircraft.

“[The KC-46] is a global reach platform and a force extender,” said Taylor. “It’s going to be out in the world and we need to be able to maintain it and supply it worldwide.”

The IOT&E period is an important step for the KC-46 to become fully operational. McConnell’s KC-46 team and the combined AFOTEC/AMC TES team are working hard to provide data that will prepare the Air Force for the future of air refueling.