Sen. Shaheen takes flight with Pease 157th Air Refueling WingFebruary 25, 2021
A longtime advocate for the KC-46A Pegasus tanker, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, switched out her usual tasks Tuesday for an up-close view of the aircraft’s capabilities.
Joining members of Pease’s 157th Air Refueling Wing, Shaheen joined a live air refueling mission aboard a Pegasus tanker after a meeting with Air Force leadership at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
“I was thrilled to witness some of the extraordinary men and women from the 157th Air Refueling Wing in action yesterday afternoon, from the pilots to boom operators, who demonstrated the impressive precision and expertise that ensures U.S. missions are carried out safely and efficiently,” she said in a prepared statement.
Aircraft commander for the flight Jordan Gauvin, an instructor pilot with Pease's 133rd Air Refueling Squadron, said to his knowledge it's the first time a congressional leader has been on board a KC-46A aircraft as a mission is taking place.
The flight traveled from Washington D.C. to an air refueling anchor off the coast of Virginia, where the tanker refueled several F-16 jets.
"She seemed very pleased. I think she was impressed with the capabilities that we're able to put forth with the system," Gauvin said.
Accompanying Shaheen and members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing on the flight was Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the Air Force chief of staff.
"That was a huge deal for us to fly with Gen. Brown, as well," Gauvin said.
Aircraft capability and ties to Pease
The KC-46A tanker is the updated aircraft of choice used by the Air Force after decades of utilizing the former KC-135 tankers established during the era of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A Pegasus aircraft, manufactured by Boeing and based off a commercial airliner, can hold 212,299 pounds of fuel and up to 65,000 pounds of a cargo load.
“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 at the time. “It’s great progress.”
Shaheen, a member of the Senate’s Armed Forces Committee, has pressed the Department of Defense for continued oversight into the development of the tankers for bases around the country, namely in efforts to update the Remote Visions System model that plays a crucial role in refueling missions.
The current RVS model, consisting of cameras and sensors, has experienced “major flaws in low-quality imagery, problems with lighting, and warped views of trailing aircraft,” Air Force News reported last April.
The new and improved “RVS 2.0,” a process expected to cost $550 million for the nation’s entire Pegasus fleet, is expected to be up and running online by 2023 or 2024.
The RVS system is a telescoping tube that is controlled by a video screen and a joystick, which is maneuvered by an operator on the tanker aircraft, that extends to a receptacle-equipped receiver aircraft. The operator overseeing the refueling images sent to the screen is referred to as a “boomer.”
One of Tuesday's boomers was Sgt. Brett Petersen, who said that the bright, sunny conditions over the Atlantic Ocean demonstrated the "washout" occurring when attempting to refuel other aircraft. Visual strains lead to boom operators having to "constantly change the scenes" to get a better picture of the aircraft.
Though they are still able to work around the current deficiencies of the RVS model, an enhanced RVS, which Petersen called "ERVS," is slated to be released later this year as an intermediary solution before RVS 2.0 emerges in the future.
"In regard to washout, it will enhance the 3-D (picture) so it's less straining on the eyes," he said.
Though having little interaction with Shaheen on the flight, Petersen believes it was a huge help to her seeing that they can still conduct missions despite the difficulties of RVS.
"You can explain it all day, but to see it first hand helps," he said of her being aboard the aircraft.
Gauvin reiterated that the KC-46A is a still a very "mission capable" aircraft.
Recent pressing from Shaheen on the matter came at the confirmation hearing for then Secretary of Defense nominee Gen. Lloyd Austin, who she gained commitment from to continue looking into the matter further and working with Boeing to solve the matter.
Later confirmed as the first Black Secretary of Defense in American history, Austin said at his hearing, "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."
The work is only just beginning
In her statement, Shaheen expressed her gratitude in coming together and huddling with some of the Air Force's top minds before taking flight with the 157th Air Refueling Wing.
“I also appreciated the opportunity to discuss crucial priorities for the KC-46 program as well as New Hampshire’s important role in support of our national security with General Brown, Brigadier General Van Ovost and senior Air Force Leadership,” Shaheen’s statement continued. “As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’ll keep working to strengthen our national defense and put Granite State priorities front and center.”
By: Ian Lenahan
Source: Portsmouth Herald
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