PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, NH — In a feat of air mobility endurance, a KC-46A Pegasus from the 157th Air Refueling Squadron flew a non-stop mission halfway around the world and back Nov. 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 Command, the active-duty main command to which the 157th is attached.
General Mike Minihan, the AMC 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 Joint Force.”
The crew left the US east coast on a cold, rainy morning and flew west over 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 to New Hampshire and landing on the night of November 17 – 36 hours to the minute after takeoff.
Maj. Bill Daley, the mission’s aircraft commander and a traditional member of the New Hampshire Air National Guard, said the flight demonstrated the jet’s ability to combine power through its endurance, aircrew upkeep, refueling, situational awareness and connectivity to project and connect mission planning in the air.
The KC-46A Pegasus offers the Air Force strategic flexibility. Because each KC-46A can be refueled in flight, each aircraft can remain in theaters of operations to provide sustained support to armed aircraft. The endurance mission demonstrated these capabilities, refueling three times mid-flight and refueling F-22 fighters while flying in closed-loop control off the coast of Hawaii.
The crew also utilized the KC-46A’s secure and unclassified networks and situational awareness systems, allowing for a number of future uses. The platform’s situational awareness capabilities allow it to be protected in competitive environments.
It takes more than gasoline to stay airborne; The crew also needs support and this was another refueling barrier tested and destroyed on the mission. Alternating at the controls were two crews from the New Hampshire Air National Guard’s 133rd Air Refueling Squadron and an active crew from the attached 64th Air Refueling Squadron. While one crew flew, the other two rested.
Daley said previous generations of tankers lacked the fundamentals to support crews for 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 airline pilot when not flying for the Guard.
The KC-46A is air-conditioned and has a galley, crew bunks and a toilet. The configurability of the cargo area also allows for the placement of airline-style seats and additional sleeping areas for larger crews. For the endurance mission, a palletized kitchen and toilet were added to support the crew of 16, including outrigger operators, aircraft attendants and a flight surgeon.
The crew read, watched movies, prepared meals, and slept in cots throughout the cargo area to fill the long hours off-duty.
Master Sgt. Michael Windy, a boom operator with the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron who had nearly 3,000 flight hours on the KC-135 before transitioning to the KC-46, agreed with Daley that the new aircraft’s increased comfort 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 deployment we flew to Saipan a few months ago, so I already had an idea of what to expect,” said Windy, who worked hard to make it accessible to the rest of the crew became comfortable and full. “I really haven’t noticed a huge difference in how I feel.”
Senior Airman Paige Dunleavy, an avionics technician for the 157th Air Refueling Wing, said this is her first trip with a crew.
“The joke is my first TDY is Pease,” she said of the unusual point-to-point mission.
As a new flyer in upgrade training, it was an excellent opportunity to see 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. Dunleavy and another avionics technician restarted the civilian satellite communications system when it was causing problems for the flight crew.
Maj. Heidi MacVittie, a flight surgeon from Pease, served as human performance monitor aboard the flight and collected quantitative data throughout the mission. This data and data from the wing’s most recent 20-hour mission will inform decision-making for similar future missions.
“This mission was a true example of Total Force Integration,” said Lt. Col. Brian Carloni, the commander of the 157th Operations Group. “The expertise of both our Guard and Active Duty aviators in conducting this mission has demonstrated the importance of teamwork in any wartime scenario.”
Daley said the success wasn’t just down to Total Force’s crew aboard the jet. The mission, almost two months to the day after Minihan approved the KC-46A for worldwide deployment – including combat missions – was the result of several years of hard work and dedication from the entire wing, and ultimately demonstrated the strength that bring them into battle.
“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.