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Fri, Sep 23, 2022

Air Force Clears KC-46 Pegasus for Duty

Next-Gen Tanker Enters the Real World Despite Minor Issues

The US Air Force has cleared the KC-46 Pegasus tanker for worldwide deployment, passing a milestone for the Boeing project. 

Air Mobility Command has cleared the tanker for all deployments and taskings, opening the way for the service to use its 60-strong fleet of KC-46s. General Mike Minihan, commander, approved the aircraft while saying "We are ready to use this aircraft globally in any fight, without hesitation," despite some long standing issues and headaches with some systems of the next-generation tanker.

The news follows a string of problems and issues with the aircraft's finicky Remote Vision System, which replaces the old-fashioned window in the aircraft's tail with a series of electronics that allow the operator to monitor and maneuver the refueling probe. As per usual when migrating to an all-electric subsystem, the troubles have taken a while to iron out, whether a result of inclement weather, insufficient lighting, or obscuration. Boeing's next-generation Remote Vision System (RVS) upgrade is scheduled to be installed in 2024, which should hopefully solve any remaining issues with the refueling system. In the meantime, however, crews seem happy with the aircraft, and General Minihan stands by the decision to clear the Pegasus for duty. He has plans to fix the RVS as soon as possible, not content to accept a lackadaisical timeline in bringing the aircraft up to 100% functionality. He assured the service that he would not accept the RVS limitations as a permanent state, and that the approval is needed to move away from the current phase of development so his Command can begin to realize the full capabilities of the Pegasus.

“My job is to win tomorrow," said Minihan. "Nobody’s going to care about my plans for the KC-46 or my fleet in 10 years if I lose tomorrow. I need it now. I am extremely straightforward with Boeing with my concerns about quality, timelines, and cost. But if I can put an incredibly capable tanker in the fight then, then why wouldn’t I?”

Recently, the Air Mobility Command put the aircraft to work in its first operational sortie, when it refueled 2 F-15E Strike Eagles of the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. The system was run through its paces at the multi-week Employment Concept Exercise held at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where airmen from the 22nd and 931st Air Refueling Wings offloaded 1.46 million pounds of fuel to 66 aircraft, racking up 206 flight hours.

“We have rapidly operationalized this aircraft to support the joint force,” said Minihan. “We’re taking a hard look at our entire toolkit to make sure we extract maximum value to be ready for a high-end fight.”



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