The KC-46A performs the first operational refueling of international aircraft

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The KC-46A program achieved another major milestone on April 18, 2022, when a Pegasus refueled Spanish EF-18 Hornets, known in Spain as the C-15.

The refueling took place during the aircraft’s first employment concept exercise, ECE 22-03, at Moron Air Base, Spain.

This mission marked the first operational resupply of an international receiver for the KC-46A, paving the way for enhanced interoperability with Allies and partners.

A Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornet, known in Spain as the C-15, from Trojan Air Base, Spain, pulls away after refueling from a KC-46A U.S. Air Force Pegasus based at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, April 18, 2022. The Spanish fighter is the first international aircraft to be refueled during a Pegasus operation. McConnell’s crew and four KC-46As were in Spain for the aircraft’s first employment concept exercise, ECE 22-03, which is designed to continue operational testing and evaluation, increase aircrew proficiency and support personnel and enhance aircraft sustainment operations. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sergeant Nathan Eckert)

“The KC-46A, its crews, maintenance and support personnel have performed magnificently over the past seven weeks in Spain,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command. “They pushed hard to get the plane through its paces during ECE, including supporting a bomber task force, refueling American fighters over Eastern Europe, and performing the first-ever operational refueling of an international aircraft.AMC continues to move toward increased refueling capability while working to overcome programmatic challenges.

According to Brigadier General Ryan Samuelson, AMC’s KC-46A cross-functional team leader, the capability release plan, of which the ECE is a part, has significantly improved KC-46A operations over the past 10 last months.

“The Pegasus is now cleared to support nearly 85 percent of joint force receivers requesting aerial refueling from US Transportation Command,” Samuelson said. “While the ICR brought KC-46 mission capabilities, the ECE will now operationalize those capabilities in an array of mission scenarios.”

AMC introduced the second phase of the ICR on March 10, when Minihan approved the employment of four KC-46As and approximately 220 active, guard, and reserve airmen at Moron AB to conduct the first in a series of ECE aimed at improving the operational fielding and sustainment of the KC-46A.

Throughout ECE 22-03, aircraft and personnel remained under AMC authority as they validated desired learning objectives and prepared to support theater operational missions as required. The KC-46A ICR plane allows the Pegasus to perform operational tasks that would otherwise be performed by the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-10 Extender aircraft, increasing the force’s aerial refueling capability and further seasoning the force’s aircrews total Pegasus with operational missions.

The mission was also an opportunity to build relationships with its Spanish hosts and show what the Pegasus can bring to international operations with Allies and partners.

Despite existing restrictions and shortcomings, the KC-46A continues to demonstrate its growing operational capabilities. The Pegasus has offloaded over 78 million pounds of fuel and made over 34,900 perches and 2,200 drug contacts since January 2019.

As of April 26, the Air Force had 57 KC-46As in its inventory. The KC-46A currently operates out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas; Seymour Johnson Air Reserve Base, North Carolina; Pease Air National Guard Base, NH; Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, NJ; and Altus Air Force Base, Okla.

Moran Air Base Commander Spanish Air Force Col. Enrique Fernandez Ambel watches as U.S. Air Force Capt. Steven Strickland, an instructor pilot for the 344th Air Refueling Squadron KC-46A Pegasus, approaches to receive fuel during an orientation flight April 18, 2022. Spanish commanders joined the flight to learn about U.S. tanker operations and witness the first-ever Pegasus refueling of an international aircraft during of an operation, a Spanish EF-18 Hornet, also known in Spain as the C-15. (Air Force photograph by Staff Sergeant Nathan Eckert)

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