ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
A B-1B Lancer aircrew from the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB flew into history as the first operational unit from the base to conduct a refueling mission with a KC-46A May 17, 2021.
A KC-46A Pegasus from the 344th Air Refueling Squadron at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, refueled the highly-versatile, long-range strategic bomber in a training area near Rapid City, South Dakota.
The KC-46A is the first phase in recapitalizing the U.S. Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. With greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities compared to the KC-135 Stratotanker, the KC-46A will provide next generation aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.
“The systems on the KC-46 helped smooth out the airflow as we approached … which helps [us] to get established in the contact position,” said Maj. Tim Jarrell, a 37th BS B-1 instructor pilot who participated in the mission. “Refueling with the KC-46 was very similar to my other experiences I’ve had with KC-135s, and KC-10s, but in general seemed very stable and was an easy platform to refuel from.”
At full operational capability, the KC-46A will be able to refuel most fixed-wing, receiver-capable aircraft. The KC-46A is equipped with a refueling boom driven by a fly-by-wire control system, and is capable of fuel offload rates required for large aircraft. Its hose and drogue system adds additional mission capability that is independently operable from the refueling boom system.
Aircrew in the Pegasus during the historic flight for the base B-1 crew remarked that the refueling mission couldn’t have gone any better.
“The Ellsworth crew was incredible,” said Capt. Steven Strickland, 22nd Operations Support Squadron flight commander assigned to McConnell. “Aircraft stability was excellent, allowing the booms to evaluate the concerns that had been raised during initial testing, and mitigate them with experience gained over the past two years. The positive impact for IOT&E [Initial Operational Test and Evaluation], and for the enterprise as whole, will continue to push the KC-46 further as we enter our limited operational capability in AMC [Air Mobility Command].”
Jarrell remarked that after talking with the KC-46 crew, both teams are interested in doing more training together.
“Our crew felt lucky to be able to get to train with the KC-46,” said Jarrell. “Anytime we get to practice air refueling it is great training, and getting to see a new tanker was a fun experience on top of that.”
Along with the refueling portion of the mission, the B-1 crew also conducted a full tactical training scenario in the Powder River Training Complex (PRTC). The PRTC allows aircrews to plan realistic training scenarios directly applicable to current operations and potential future conflicts. In addition to increasing the combat-readiness of B-1 aircrews to respond to contingencies, the airspace provides for the more efficient use of increasingly tight budgets and better stewardship of taxpayer resources.