72nd ARS performs Grissom’s first KC-46 refueling

  • Published
  • By A1C Harrison Withrow
  • 434th ARW

Old school met new school in a historic flight for the 434th Air Refueling Wing.

Staff Sgt. Dillan Addington, Staff Sgt. Sean Witter, and Master Sgt. Jessie Rood, 72nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operators, recently performed Grissom’s first ever air refueling between a KC-135R Stratotanker and a  KC-46 Pegasus.  

The 931st Air Refueling Wing KC-46 out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, is the newest air refueling platform to be added to the Air Force fleet, and was first brought into service earlier this year. It is intended as the successor of the KC-135.

Though the mission marked Grissom’s first encounter with the new airframe, Addington brought prior experience to the table.

“I first refueled the KC-46 toward the end of my tech school,” said Addington. “In March of this year, I was the first Airman ever to perform a nighttime refueling of the Pegasus.”

For his achievement, Addington was awarded a unique commemorative patch.

Refueling an aircraft as large as the KC-46 can present some challenges, said Addington.

“With fighter aircraft, refueling tends to go more smoothly because they can fly perfectly straight and level,” said Addington. “With heavies (large aircraft such as cargo carriers or bombers) you have to deal with turbulence a lot more.”

Because of the size of the KC-46, it creates what is known as a “bow wave” in front of itself. This disruption of the air current can often push the refueling aircraft around in unwanted ways.

“There’s a certain tolerance for how far we can drift in any direction before we’re forced to disconnect the boom,” said Addington. “We ran into some minor issues with that during our refueling.

“Other than some light turbulence though, the mission went very smoothly,” Addington added. “We did one disconnect when it got bumpy because at the end of the day it’s just training and we want to be as safe as possible.”

Some might wonder about the purpose of one tanker refueling another, but it’s common practice, he said.

“Like any other aircraft, we can refuel them to extend their range and help them get to their theatre of operation,” said Addington. “If there’s a KC-135 in the area, the KC-46 can offload most of its gas without worrying if they have enough to get back home.”

Though it was the 434th’s first encounter with the KC-46, it will certainly not be the last, as the Air Force has stated its intent to purchase 179 KC-46 aircraft by 2027.

Attendees at the 2019 Grissom Air & Space Expo on Sept. 7-8 will get a chance to witness the new tanker in action. A two-ship flyover is scheduled to be performed at a low altitude allowing spectators to see the aircraft from a new perspective.

For more information about the airshow, visit grissomairshow.com and stay connected with the 434th ARW on Facebook and Twitter for continued updates.