EDWARDS AFB — The KC-46 Tanker Program reached a major milestone Sunday when it successfully demonstrated its first-ever aerial refueling contact and fuel transfer with an F-16C from Edwards Air Force Base. The flight was the first in a block of testing out of Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, using the boom system.
The Pegasus passed 1,600 pounds of fuel to an F-16 piloted by Lt. Col. Daniel Alix, who characterized the mission as a complete success.
The test was a joint effort between Boeing and Edwards AFB personnel, with a 412th TW pilot in the cockpit of the instrumented F-16C. Inside the KC-46A, along with the Boeing Test and Evaluation team, were 418th Flight Test Squadron pilots, boom operators and flight test engineers, as well as discipline engineers from the 418th FLTS. An additional Edwards AFB F-16D served as a chase plane for safety and test support.
This testing follows extensive ground testing at Boeing’s production facility in Everett, Washington, last December, and legacy tanker ground tests at Edwards last September. Both the KC-135 and KC-10 were used to baseline the KC-46A aerial refueling system’s performance under nominal and worst-case conditions. Boom nozzle fit checks for both the F-16 and C-17 receptacles were also conducted prior to this flight.
“In flight, boom operators from the 412th TW and Boeing conducted flutter and free-air stability testing, as well as handling qualities evaluations without a receiver present as build-up to first contact,” said KC-46 test pilot Lt. Col. Daryl Corneille.
Similar evaluations and tracking exercises were conducted with the F-16C behind the KC-46A. Once the results of the evaluation were deemed satisfactory to the test team, the pilot was cleared to make contact in flight.
Like any test program, the KC-46A did not fly without the team overcoming a few challenges. According to Corneille, there was a significant amount of coordination that had to take place.
“The KC-46A is flying under a Federal Aviation Administration experimental airworthiness certificate and the receiver aircraft are being flown under USAF airworthiness certifications,” he explained.
As such, the 412th TW, Boeing, and the FAA had to combine their efforts to allow for the USAF aircrews to participate in flight onboard the KC-46A and for the USAF receivers to conduct aerial refueling flight tests with the KC-46A.
Once the current block of testing is complete to support the MS C decision, the 412th TW will produce a report to send to the KC-46 Program Office.
The KC-46A Pegasus is intended to replace the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet, which has been refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46A will provide aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as allied nation coalition aircraft.
The 412th TW is the lead developmental test organization for the KC-46 Tanker Program.
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