22 ARW Builds Airbridge in Support of Project Magellan

  • Published
  • By A1C Gavin Hameed
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing exhibited their ability to explode into theater by coordinating with three military bases around the world to preposition several of the wing's tankers in support of Project Magellan, the world's first nonstop, KC-46A Pegasus westbound circumnavigation flight from June 29-July 1, 2024.

To ensure the success of this mission, the 22nd ARW strategically deployed aircraft and crews to create a worldwide airbridge. These deployments provided continuous air refueling support, crucial for sustaining the KC-46 throughout its 45-hour journey.

The final refueling checkpoint for the aircraft was over England on July 1 before its return to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Conducting the refueling was a team of seven pilots and three flying crew chiefs from the 350th Air Refueling Squadron who traveled across the Atlantic to join their sister squadron, the 351st ARS from the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom.

"I think it's pretty cool to come to a base that has so much history behind it in terms of aviation and World War II," said Capt. Dwayne Facho, 350th ARS pilot. "It's pretty cool to get on a sortie and see a name you recognize and then go fly a mission with somebody you know."

This collaboration rekindled a historical connection, as the 350th was assigned to the 100th Bombardment Group during World War II. The group, formed in 1942, included the 349th, 350th, 351st, and 418th Bombardment Squadrons and was later redesignated the 100th Air Refueling Wing.

"I know a few of the co-pilots but this will be the first time working together," said 1st Lt. Matthew Warner, 351st ARS co-pilot. "But it's really cool getting the opportunity to go out there and fly with people I know. It's just kind of a reminder that no matter where we go, we're doing the same missions. We're working together."

The KC-135 Stratotanker still serves as the backbone of the Air Force's air refueling operations. With an inventory of 396 Stratotankers, including 243 aircraft operated by the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard, the aircraft is critical in supporting nearly every Air Force mission.

"With everything going on in the world currently, I think it's a nice reminder for not only Americans back home, but for the rest of the world," said Warner. "The U.S. Air Force is the number one Air Force in the world, we're capable of having aircraft circumnavigating the globe without having to land and that's a huge accomplishment for McConnell, and I know the 351st is happy to be a part of it."

The KC-46 flight is a testament to Air Mobility Command's commitment to Maximum Endurance Operations, designed to extend the operational range and sustain combat airpower globally. The airframe's ability to circumnavigate without landing highlights the Air Force's unparalleled capacity for global mobility.

This endeavor builds on previous MEOs conducted by the 22nd, including a 24.2-hour nonstop flight in 2022 and a 36-hour flight by the 157th Air Refueling Wing. These operations have helped refine crew-rest cycles, fatigue monitoring and operational procedures for extended missions.

An undertaking of this size required meticulous planning and coordination with multiple aircraft and support personnel worldwide. Capt. Cody Donahue, 22nd Operations Group executive officer and Project Magellan's chief planner, emphasized the importance of the air bridge and its extensive support network.

"The KC-46 could not accomplish this mission without the help of hundreds of other Airmen," Donahue said. "While we only have to refuel three times to make it around the world, we are building redundancy into our plan to give us the best chance of success. This involves KC-46 and KC-135 aircraft prepositioned throughout the world to refuel us. Behind those aircraft are dozens of maintainers, security forces personnel and base support agencies, all working as part of a massive and seamless operation that we call Air Mobility Command."