SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --
In a low-key, COVID-compliant closed ceremony on June 12, the Air Force Reserve’s 916th Air Refueling Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, accepted its first of 12 KC-46 Pegasus aircraft.
Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, and Chief Master Sgt. Timothy White, senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the Air Force Reserve and AFRC’s command chief master sergeant, served as delivery officials and were on board the aircraft as it arrived.
“This KC-46 delivery is a great example of how we are reforming our Air Force Reserve and transitioning to the next generation of airpower,” Scobee said. “Being able to be here with you for the delivery of your first KC-46 Pegasus is an honor and really special for me during these trying times.”
Col. Stephen Lanier, commander of the 916th ARW, was ecstatic to welcome home his 77th Air Refueling Squadron crew. The closed ceremony marked the dawning of a new era for the service men and women who serve in the 916th.
“As the first unit-equipped Air Force Reserve wing to receive the KC-46, we are poised to leverage our deep knowledge and experience to realize the capabilities that are inherent in the KC-46 – air refueling, aeromedical evacuation and airlift, as well as the ability to operate in contested environments,” Lanier said.
The occasion was the culmination of months of preparing for conversion. However, the 916th and its subordinate unit, the 77th ARS, cherished the last moments they had with the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“A large portion of the squadron went on the last unit deployment to Turkey,” said Lt. Col. Darin Dial, 77th ARS commander. “We then flew several USAFE (U.S. Air Forces – Europe) tanker support rotations, and topped off KC-135 operations with final missions to Puerto Rico and Savannah, Georgia.”
The 77th also helped secure $1.7 billion of combat assets during last year’s hurricane evacuations.
“The last 12 months leading up to the arrival of the first KC-46 has been a memorable year,” Dial said.
While the wing continuously supported sorties, Airmen started conversion training from the KC-135 to the KC-46 last winter.
“In December, we sent our first crew to Altus AFB, Oklahoma, for KC-46 training,” Dial said. “Since then, we’ve continued to send pilots and boom operators to Altus and McConnell AFB, Kansas, for KC-46 qualification training.”
The maintainers have also been hard at work learning the nuances of the new aircraft.
“The KC-46 is completely different than the 63-plus-year-old aircraft we had been previously working on, and very little of our KC-135 equipment was able to be used to repair and fly the new air frame,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Birmingham, 916th Maintenance Squadron superintendent. “We are currently in the process of divesting more than 600 pieces of KC-135 tools and test equipment that cannot be used on the KC-46. The other side of that is we acquired more than 2,500 new pieces of equipment, designed especially for the KC-46.”
Along with conversion training, the maintainers also learned about Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“This will be the first aerial refueling aircraft to meet all FAA requirements as well as those set forth by the Air Force,” Birmingham said. “In the training, they learned how to complete documentation in accordance with FAA regulations on a dual-certified aircraft when aircraft system maintenance or modifications need to be accomplished.”
In the first 72 hours at its new home, each KC-46 will have to undergo a rigorous inspection to ensure every piece the factory installed made it from the assembly floor to Seymour Johnson.
“This inspection requires 916th technicians to inspect and record every major component’s serial number,” Birmingham said. “Our maintainers will also open panels and complete serviceability inspections to make sure every system operates per Boeing, Air Force and FAA technical requirements.”
The 916th is scheduled to receive 12 total aircraft through the end of 2021. Seymour Johnson is the fourth base to receive the KC-46. McConnell received the first in January 2019, followed by Altus in February 2019 and Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, in August 2019.
“It’s a rare opportunity to deliver a new aircraft to the Air Force,” Dial said. “The crews feel privileged to take part in this historic moment for the wing.
931st ARW Reaches KC-46 Conversion Milestone
At about the same time the 916th was receiving its first KC-46, the Reserve’s 931st Air Refueling Wing, McConnell AFB, Kansas, reached a milestone in its own conversion from the KC-135 to the KC-46.
Wing members gathered on the flight line June 6 to celebrate the wing’s last KC-135R training flight during a unit training assembly.
Though this was not the last time a 931st ARW aircrew would fly a KC-135, the flight was the last UTA training flight in a Stratotanker.
The KC-135, tail number #58-0124, departed McConnell early in the morning as the lead tanker of a combined four-ship formation including three KC-46s. The KC-135 aircrew flew to Texas to refuel it sister Reserve unit, the 301st Fighter Wing at Carswell Air Reserve Base.
The pilots included Lt. Col. Jonathan Flores, Maj. Chris Foote, Capt. Derrick Lopez and 2nd Lt. Ben Stone from the 18th Air Refueling Squadron. Master Sgt. Clay Dotson, 905th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, performed air refueling on the flight.
"Knowing it was the last 135 UTA training sortie, I think of all the past and present members who I’ve had the privilege of serving and flying this amazing aircraft with," Dotson said. "We’re now turning the page to a new chapter in the 931 ARW, with a new weapons system and the capabilities it will bring to the fight."
To increase the amount of KC-46A Pegaus aircrew training and air refueling, the three flying squadrons of the 931st ARW will no longer fly the KC-135 during UTAs. This is all part of the continuing familiarization and operations testing that began with arrival of the first KC-46 in January 2019.
Since the stand-up of the 931st Air Refueling Group at Team McConnell in 1995, the KC-135 has been the workhorse of McConnell’s Reserve and active duty flying squadrons. Along with its members, it has travelled worldwide and been part of the major forces defending the United States.
Now, after 25 years, many flying hours and a number of military operations, the tanker still continues to serve the 931st ARW and the 22nd Air Refueling Wing to protect its members and the nation; it’s presence on the flightline shrinking only to make way for more KC-46s.
"It's definitely the end of an era for our flight crews, but our Reservists are ready," said Col. Kevin Rainey, 931st Operations Group commander. "Our Reserve aircrews are more than prepared and although the KC-135 workhorse is an amazing aircraft, it is time to fully commit to the KC-46 during our UTAs."
The 931st ARW is the first associate Reserve unit to fly and maintain the new KC-46. The first Reserve squadron to fly the KC-46, the 924th Air Refueling Squadron, stood up at McConnell in 2017 to prepare ahead of time.
The KC-46 will eventually replace the U.S. Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers which have been the backbone of the refueling fleet for more than 50 years. The KC-46 will provide more refueling capability, an increased capacity for cargo and modern aeromedical evacuation capabilities. #ReserveReady #ReserveReform
(Ashley L. Snipes, 916th ARW public affairs office, and Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein, 931st ARW public affairs office, contributed to this story.)