PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NH (AFNS) —
In a feat of air mobility endurance, a KC-46A Pegasus of the 157th Air Refueling Wing flew a non-stop mission halfway around the world and back from November 16-17.
The point-to-point, 36-hour, 16,000-mile, multi-crew, total force deployment was the longest such mission in the history of Air Mobility Commandthe high command on active duty, to which the 157th ARW is aligned.
General Mike MinihanAMC Commander, has tirelessly pushed the command to find new ways to deploy current resources in anticipation of future combat.
“This expanded mission is another example of capable airmen taking command and moving out to expedite our deployment of the KC-46A,” Minihan said. “This Total Force mission boldly underscores the need to think differently, change the way we do business, and offer options to the combined force.”
The crew left the US east coast on a cold and wet morning and flew west across the country and out into the Pacific Ocean. After flying over Hawaii, the crew flew across the International Date Line to Guam before turning around and retracing their steps home to New Hampshire, where they landed on the evening of November 17; 36 hours to the minute after launch.
Maj. Bill Daley, the mission’s aircraft commander and a traditional member of the New Hampshire Air National Guardsaid the flight demonstrates the aircraft’s abilities to project and connect collective power through its ability for endurance, aircrew preservation, refueling, situational awareness and connectivity, and in-air mission planning.
The KC-46A offers the Air Force strategic flexibility through its unique blend of tenacity and presence. Staying airborne for hours requires a steady supply of fuel. Since each KC-46A can be self-refuelled in flight, each aircraft can remain in theaters of operations to provide sustained support to armed aircraft. The endurance mission demonstrated these capabilities, picking up fuel and delivering gas three times during the flight F-22 Raptors while flying a closed loop pattern off the coast of Hawaii.
The crew also took advantage of the KC-46A’s secure and unclassified networks and situational awareness systems, allowing for a wide range of future applications. The platform’s situational awareness capabilities allow it to be protected in competitive environments.
It takes more than gas to stay airborne – the crew also needs provisions, and this was another refueling barrier tested and destroyed on the mission. Two New Hampshire ANG crews took turns at the controls 133rd Air Refueling Squadron and an active crew from the attached 64th ARS. While one crew flew, the other two rested and took advantage of the jet’s modern amenities.
According to Daley, previous generations of tankers lacked the fundamentals needed to support crews for long-term, multi-day missions. He said the old jets are incredibly uncomfortable and can go from hot to cold, contributing to crew fatigue. The Pegasus is in stark contrast to this.
“It’s like flying with first class service,” said Daley, who is a civilian pilot when not flying for the Guard.
The KC-46A is air-conditioned and equipped with a kitchen, crew bunks and a toilet. The configurability of the cargo area also allows for the placement of airline-style seats and additional sleeping areas to accommodate larger crews. A palletized kitchen and lavatory were also added for the endurance mission to support the crew of 16, which included boom operators, aircraft maintenance personnel and a flight surgeon.
To pass the long off-duty hours, the crew spent time reading, watching films, preparing meals, and sleeping in cots scattered throughout the cargo area.
Master Sgt. Michael Windy, a 133rd ARS boom operator who had nearly 3,000 flight hours on the KC-135 before transitioning to the KC-46, agreed with Daley about the new aircraft’s increased comfort that makes missions like this possible . With only a few hours left in the endurance effort, Windy said he felt rested and comfortable.
“I was on the 22-hour mission that we flew to Saipan a couple of months ago, so I already had an idea of what to expect,” said Windy, who worked hard to convey it to the rest of the crew comfortable and fed. “I really haven’t noticed a huge difference in how I feel.”
Senior Airman Paige Dunleavy, a 157th ARW avionics technician, said this is her first voyage with a crew.
“The joke is my first TDY is Pease,” she said of the unusual point-to-point mission.
As a new aviator undergoing upgrade training, it was an excellent opportunity to see firsthand how the crew are using the systems they maintain.
“I definitely learned things and it was the first time I was able to troubleshoot a system in flight,” she said, noting the restart of the civilian satellite communications system that she and another avionics technician are carrying out had to when it caused problems for the flight crew.
Towards the end of the mission, Dunleavy reported feeling overall normal, although she added that the hiker in her was excited to get back on the ground after flying over the Grand Canyon on the trip’s return leg.
Maj. Heidi MacVittie, a Pease ANG flight surgeon, served as human performance monitor aboard the flight and collected quantitative data throughout the mission. This data, along with that collected during the wing’s most recent 20-hour mission, will be used to aid decision-making for similar missions in the future.
“This mission was a true example of the total integration of the armed forces,” said Lt. Col. Brian Carloni, the commander of the 157th Operations Group. “The expertise of both our Guard and active airmen in conducting this mission has demonstrated the importance of teamwork in any war scenario.”
Daley said the success was due to more than the entire crew on board the jet. The mission that came almost two months to the day after that Minihan approved the KC-46A for worldwide deployments – including combat missions – was the result of hard work and dedication from the entire wing over several years, and ultimately demonstrated the strength they bring to combat.
“We have a healthy fleet and are demonstrating full mission readiness with onload and offload capabilities. We could execute tomorrow if we had to,” he said.