Just days after Air Mobility Command cleared the KC-46 to start refueling Air Force F-15s and F-16s, a tanker from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing completed the Pegasus’ first Tanker Airlift Control Center-tasked F-16 Coronet.
Coronets are missions in which a group of fighters are assigned one or multiple tankers to fly with them over an ocean to ensure the smaller aircraft have enough fuel.
The KC-46A from the 344th Air Refueling Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., flew to Naval Station Rota, Spain, where it linked up with F-16s from the D.C. Air National Guard’s 121st Fighter Squadron.
The tanker then flew with the fighters, which were returning from a deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, across the Atlantic to their home station of Joint Base Andrews, Md.
The Oct. 16-17 mission followed closely on the Oct. 13 “interim capability release” issued by AMC that allowed KC-46s to refuel all variants of the F-15 and F-16 using the air-to-air refueling boom. It was the third such release, after AMC first cleared the tanker to use its centerline drogue, then permitted it to use its boom to refuel C-17s, B-52s, and other KC-46s in some circumstances.
With the most recent release, 62 percent of aircraft that “request air refueling support” from U.S. Transportation Command can now be accommodated using the Pegasus tanker, AMC said.
As the KC-46 has been allowed to take on more missions, the Air Force’s KC-10s and KC-135s have been freed up for other missions. This proved especially vital in August, when AMC’s fleet was stretched thin by the Afghanistan non-combatant evacuation operation that involved scores of airlift and tanker aircraft. This led to the KC-46 performing its first operational missions.
Yet while the tanker continues to expand its mission set, it still has years to go before it is expected to be declared fully operational. The plane’s boom has been plagued by issues, principally with the Remote Vision System, a 3-D video display that has suffered from latency and blind spots in certain conditions. As a result, the KC-46 has previously scraped aircraft when trying to refuel them, which is of particular concern for stealth airframes such as the F-22, F-35, and B-2, which have sensitive treatments to keep their observability low.