Boeing and the United States Air Force recently completed the first successful refueling over the state of Washington with a KC-46A tanker.
The F-16C fighter jet took in 1,600 pounds of fuel while flying 20,000 feet above ground. The F-16’s light lasted nearly six hours, meaning a mid-air refuel would be necessary. The refueling operators stayed in contact with the Air Force throughout, making sure they knew exactly when the fuel was needed. Master Sergeant Lindsay Moon was in charge of extending the fifty-six-foot boom into the jet’s receptacle. The exchange went smoothly, as planned.
Controlling the boom from the KC-46A’s air refueling operator station “is night and day different from laying on your belly in a KC-135,” said Moon.
Other crew members included Lieutenant Colonel Donevan Rein - who was piloting the aircraft - and Ricky Kahler, the air refueling operator. They are part of the 418th Flight Test Squadron in Seattle.
The first refueling flight was scheduled for late last year, but delays caused it to be pushed back until January 2016. This test run was a prerequisite for the USAF’s “Milestone C” decision that will begin low-rate production of the KC-46A.
“Program officials anticipate awarding the first production contract shortly thereafter,” the service said.
The KC-46 is 165 feet in length, with a wingspan of 157 feet. The ninety ton aircraft has a payload of 65,000 pounds, and can reach a max speed of 650 miles per hour. A three man crew is used to operate it - two pilots, plus one person to operate the boom.
Subsequent tests will use an A-10 Thunderbolt II for the light/slow receiver, as well as a C-17 Globemaster for the heavy receiver. They must also show it can take fuel from a KC-10 extender.
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