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A Busy Summer: Reserve wing reaches milestones flying KC-46A

Tech. Sgt. Leah Oakleaf, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief assigned to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas reviews her technical order for configuration plans of the fuselage cargo palette locks July 11, 2020 at Travis Air Force Base, California. Rapid response from vendors to create quality replacement for parts such as cargo locks and outlets played a key role in resolving deficiencies that previously withheld the KC-46A Pegasus from operating as an aeromedical evacuation aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Nilsa Garcia)

Left, Tech. Sgt. Leah Oakleaf, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, reviews her technical order for configuration plans of the fuselage cargo palette locks during the first aeromedical evacuation of live patients to be carried out by the KC-46 in July. (Airman First Class Nilsa Garcia)

Senior Master Sgt. Aaron McLaughlin, 18th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator and load master, surveys a cargo pallet received from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Aug. 20, 2020, at Guam, AB. Transporting people and equipment on Air Force assets takes planning and preparation.  McLaughlin was part of a McConnell Reserve-lead aircrew that flew to Travis; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and Royal Australian Air Force Base, Richmond, New South Wales, Australia.

Senior Master Sgt. Aaron McLaughlin, 18th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator and load master, surveys a cargo pallet received from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Aug. 20, 2020, at Guam, AB. Transporting people and equipment on Air Force assets takes planning and preparation. McLaughlin was part of a McConnell Reserve-lead aircrew that flew to Travis; Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and Royal Australian Air Force Base, Richmond, New South Wales, Australia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, KANSAS --

The Air Force Reserve’s 931st Air Refueling Wing, McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, has had a busy summer flying milestone missions in the KC-46A, the Air Force’s newest tanker.

In July, Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 931st ARW and 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, participated in a Total Force mission to test capabilities of the KC-46A during its first aeromedical evacuation.

Over the course of six flights and 17 hours, the mission, which originated at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, transited five patients and two attendees to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Patrick AFB, Florida; and Travis AFB, California. The mission was evaluated by the Air Force Testing and Evaluation Center.

“I don’t think most people realize the amount of training and dedication the team has when they come out and do a mission like this,” said Maj. Michael Murphy, 905th Air Refueling Squadron pilot. “Everyone really performed well and at a high level.”

The KC-46 has undergone extensive testing this past year, led by the Air Force Testing and Evaluation Center, to evaluate the aircraft’s capabilities to support aeromedical evacuation. After the resolution of key discrepancies, the successful completion of the first operational mission represents a significant milestone in the aircraft’s ability to demonstrate one of its three mission sets: aerial refueling, airlift and aeromedical evacuation.

“Some of the things we were looking for was whether or not the aircraft could sustain patient care over a 14-hour span,” said Master Sgt. Heath Hampton, Detachment 3 Initial Operational Test and Evaluations section chief for the KC-46 program. “That was proven today. It was a proof of concept that the KC-46 could be used as a viable aeromedical evacuation platform.”

An integral factor for the successful execution of the mission was the notable patient care provided by the aeromedical evacuation team. Aeromedical evacuation plays a significant role in the nation’s global capabilities as it provides time sensitive and mission critical patient care during transport to their home installations for follow-on care.

The total force team, comprised of two flight nurses and three medical technicians (all qualified on the KC-46), used a syllabus that included numerous patient scenarios and configurations to guide the execution of the training.

“It’s incredible how AE touches the patient from point of injury all the way back home,” said Lt. Col. Jason Arndt, 133rd Airlift Wing branch chief of aeromedical evacuation. “Throughout this whole journey there’s Total Force involved. It’s nice when a whole team can come together and work seamlessly to transport patients safely and effectively.”

In August, McConnell Airmen performed the first Reserve-led KC-46 cargo load mission.

Eight Airmen from all three Reserve McConnell air refueling squadrons participated in a cargo load that flew more than 18, 500 miles, traveling from the plains of Kansas to Australia.

In addition to McConnell Reserve aircrew members from the 924th, 905th and 18th Air Refueling Squadrons, two members of the 931st Maintenance Group, one member of the 22nd Maintenance Group, and one evaluator from Travis Air Force Base, California, were also involved to ensure the KC-46 was ready to make the six-day journey from McConnell to Royal Australian Air Force Richmond, New South Wales, Australia, and back.

Since receiving the KC-46 in January 2019, the boom operators’ role as loadmasters for both strategic airlift and air refueling as the tanker has increased, as the storage space for mobility pallets is greater than the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Though all four boom operators from the 924 ARS and one from the 18 ARS had prior cargo load experience with the KC-135 Stratotanker, all KC-46 cargo loading missions require different loading methods and techniques. The trip to RAAF Base Richmond strengthened the boom operators’ abilities to rapidly transport larger cargo on the KC-46.

“We were trained to load cargo before on the KC-135, but we didn’t do it very often,” said Master Sgt. Bryan Fehrenbach, 924th ARS boom operator. “This training helps us to fully utilize the capabilities of the KC-46, to take cargo and also passengers and medical evacuation.”

The crew left McConnell early on August 15, and picked up their first cargo load of more than 11,000 pounds at Travis AFB. This cargo was then delivered to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Despite the Airmen’s experience, Fehrenbach says cargo loading is always a challenge.

“With the aircraft, there are always different restrictions with weight and where it is supposed to go, because you don’t want to overload the aircraft,” he said. “You also have to maintain the center of gravity.”

After offloading and uploading more cargo pallets at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the crew headed to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on August 16. The crew then traveled all the way to the Southern Hemisphere, landing at the RAAF base on August 17.

To get back to McConnell, the team did the reverse trip back, uploading cargo at Andersen AFB to deliver to Travis AFB.

According to Fehrenbach, the Reserve aircrews plan to do more cargo loads in more challenging scenarios in the future, further extending the Reserve flying squadrons' capabilities overseas, and the reach of the 931st Air Refueling Wing and Team McConnell overall.  #ReserveReady #ReserveReform

(Klein is assigned to the 931st Air Refueling Wing’s public affairs office and Garcia is assigned to the 22nd ARW public affairs office.)          ■

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