Final KC-46A tanker delivered to 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease

February 05, 2021

PORTSMOUTH — The final KC-46A Pegasus tanker in a fleet of 12 arrived at the New Hampshire Air National Guard Base at Pease on Friday, capping off a nearly two-year transition from the former Eisenhower-era KC-135 tankers used by the 157th Refueling Wing.

Celebrating the last of the tanker’s dozen at Pease was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, who has pushed for the fleet's full arrival, as well as transparency and continued monitoring of the manufacturing of the aircrafts.

“It's a tribute to all of the men and women who have helped make this happen, everyone at Boeing who has worked so hard to build these planes, to the 157th, who have such a stellar record flying refueling missions,” she said. “It’s great progress.”

The plane flew in from Seattle and was piloted by Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, who, upon emerging from the aircraft, greeted other base members by bumping elbows.

“That was awesome. What did I tell you?” he said to one member in attendance about the flight. 

Brig. Gen. Laurie Farris, Assistant Adjutant General for Air in the New Hampshire National Guard, said it feels “excellent” now that Pease is the first wing in the nation to have its complete fleet of the KC-46A tankers.

“This thing has been great for our domestic operations, with all the movement we’ve had lately to the (United States) Capitol … it’s pretty amazing what this thing can do,” she said.

Boeing began development in 2011

Boeing, the manufacturer of the tankers, says that the planes can carry passengers, cargo and patients, and “can refuel all U.S., allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refueling procedures.” The military aircraft is based off the Boeing 767 commercial airliner.

Boeing first began developing the tankers for the United States Air Force in February 2011. The tanker model took its first initial flight in December 2014. Boeing delivered the first one in January 2019 to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. Two months later, the first Pegasus tankers arrived at Pease.

FlightGlobal reported on Jan. 21 that Boeing has sent out 42 finished KC-46A tankers to bases across America, and their current contract with the Air Force has Boeing slated to manufacture 94 tankers.

Advanced capabilities of the tankers include health diagnostic systems and a refueling operator display that “provide revolutionary visual acuity” when performing missions, simultaneous multi-point refueling and fuel efficiency due to its modeling after the Boeing 767, per the manufacturer’s website.

Replacing the KC-135 Stratotankers, which had flown in every war since Vietnam, after their 60-plus years in use, each aircraft of the Pegasus fleet can hold 212,299 pounds of fuel, an uptick from the Stratotanker’s capability. 

Furthermore, KC-46A aircraft can also carry a cargo load of up to 65,000 pounds.

Remote Visions System problem persists

persistent struggle with the tankers has centered largely around revisions needed for the Remote Visions System model, which are cameras and sensors used by the new tankers.

Boeing came to an agreement with the Air Force in April to revamp the current RVS model into “RVS 2.0,” a project expected to cost over $550 million for the entire Pegasus fleet in America, which is projected to be retooled by 2023 or 2024. 

Until the aircraft are retooled, the KC-46A can still carry out refueling missions using its center drogue system. A gasline descends from the center of the tanker and extends a centerline drogue or basket to dispense fuel to an aircraft flying below.

Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd Austin was pressed by Shaheen last month during his confirmation hearings on his commitment to getting the new RVS implemented efficiently, not just for her home state’s fleet, but for those across the nation.

Austin, who was ultimately confirmed as the nation’s first Black leader at the helm of the Department of Defense, told Shaheen, “I will absolutely stay on this issue.”

"I think it’s critical, it’s a critical component of our overall force and so I think it’s important that we continue to press and get this capability where it needs to be,” he said.

The current RVS model used by the Pegasus fleet has seen “major flaws in low-quality imagery, problems with lighting, and warped views of trailing aircraft,” said Air Force News last April.

Shaheen’s message upon the arrival of the Pegasus on Friday was simple: The government has to continue to press Boeing for those updates to be made.

“My reason to continue raising these issues is so that everybody’s reminded that this is something that’s critical,” she said. “One of the capabilities that we have in our Air Force is our ability to refuel in air, and we’ve got to make sure that we have full capability of this aircraft and, in order to do that, we just need to continue to focus on that.”

157th Air Refueling Wing track record 

The final tanker’s arrival adds to a refueling team that has shown extreme efficiency in recent memory. In 2020, the 157th Air Refueling Wing offloaded 1.6 million pounds of fuel, including to the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels ahead of the annual Army vs. Navy football game last fall. 

Thus far in 2021, the unit has transported 500 National Guard soldiers and airmen from three states to Washington D.C. for Inauguration Day support. In addition, the wing already has provided refueling support to 12 U.S. Navy F/A-18D Hornet fighters en route to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command for an exercise.

By:  Ian Lenahan
Source: Portsmouth Herald