McConnell Prepares for First Air Force KC-46

 - December 17, 2018, 3:38 AM
Instructors move a pallet across the roller floor of the KC-46 fuselage trainer at McConnell. Loadmaster instruction for KC-46 boom operators is being provided by Air Force and FlightSafety International personnel. (photo: Jerry Siebenmark)

As personnel at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas await the arrival of the installation’s—and U.S. Air Force’s—first Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker/transport, those who will instruct crews on the aircraft are finalizing their training plans for them. Trainers from McConnell and FlightSafety International recently demonstrated to the media the loading of cargo aboard a 117-foot (35.6-meters) full-scale mock-up of the KC-46’s fuselage at the base’s Fuselage Training Facility.

The $6.4 million KC-46 fuselage mock-up was manufactured by Aircrew Training in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and has a functional cargo door, rollers on the floor, smoke barriers, and egress equipment such as an inflatable emergency slide. Providing training with a mock fuselage will “save wear and tear on the KC-46 airplane,” said 1st Lieutenant Daniel de La Fe, public affairs officer for the 22nd Air Refueling Wing at McConnell. “We want to make sure this holds up and the aircraft holds up.”

The fuselage trainer is one of two that the Air Force will initially use to train its air refueling boom operators to also serve as loadmasters for the KC-46. The other is located at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. A third one is planned for Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. The KC-46’s cargo capacity is three times that of the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker that the Pegasus is replacing. The roughly 60-year-old KC-135 can accommodate six pallets compared with 18 in the KC-46.

In addition to its primary role, the fuselage trainer will also be used for instructing fire-and-rescue, ground-refueling, and aeromedical crews. It is housed inside a 13,000-sq-ft (1,208-sq-m) building, which is one of 16 that have been constructed ahead of the KC-46’s arrival at the base just southeast of Wichita. Construction projects at McConnell over the past three years have cost the Air Force $267 million. Those projects include improvements to runways, ramps, and taxiways, as well as three new hangars, one of which has three bays and offers 174,000 sq ft of floor space. Also included in the construction projects is a KC-46 maintenance training facility that will provide training to all of the Air Force’s Pegasus maintainers. Approximately 100 students are expected to rotate through the facility annually.

McConnell was selected as the first active-duty Air Force base to receive the KC-46. De La Fe said that the base expects to receive 18 KC-46s in its initial allocation and will eventually have 36. They will replace the 24 KC-135s currently assigned to the base. Previously, McConnell was gearing up to receive its first KC-46 in October, but the program has faced a number of technical issues along the way, causing Boeing to miss its original delivery date of September 2017. On December 12, de La Fe told AIN that McConnell could receive its first KC-46 before the end of the month.