Aerospace giant Boeing announced last week that it hit a major milestone by delivering the 50th KC-46A aerial refueling tanker to the U.S. Air Force.
According to a company news release, the 49th and 50th KC-46A tanker deliveries to the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Boeing Field in Washington state on Tuesday, November 9, headed for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) in New Jersey, the fifth operating base for the KC-46.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst celebrated the arrival of its first two KC-46 Pegasus tankers with a ceremony attended by hundreds of service members stationed at the base. The event featured several dignitary speakers including Maj. Gen. Mark Camerer, Commander of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center, who piloted the inaugural delivery flight to JBMDL, as well as Boeing’s vice president of Government Operations and retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Sam Cox.
Maj. Gen. Camerer described flying the first KC-46A for JBMDL that morning, “As the sun rose over our nation, as we headed from west to east, to bring a new airplane to this base—to these airmen who will fly and maintain it, who will keep peace—what I felt in that moment was inspired.”
The event exemplified the significance of the new multirole tankers for the base, which first broke ground on construction projects to host KC-46 operations in December 2018. Since then, 10 major projects have been completed in preparation for the 24 Pegasus tankers that will ultimately operate out of the base.
Boeing Site Manager Neil Bierman has been embedded at the base for 24 years — seven on active duty and the past 17 with Boeing — building toward this moment along with the base community. “This delivery is just the beginning,” Bierman said. “This base and the whole force will depend on the KC-46 for decades, and we’ll be right there supporting every step of the way to ensure the success of the mission.”
The event culminated a remarkable month for the KC-46 program. In addition to this 50th KC-46A delivery to the Air Force, Boeing delivered the first KC-46A to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force in late October. On Oct. 13, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command approved the third Interim Capability Release, or ICR, for the KC-46A, making it operationally taskable to refuel F-15s and F-16s.
In early December, AMC Commander Gen. Mike Minihan approved a 4th ICR, which allows the KC-46A to refuel the AC-130J Ghostrider, HC-130J Combat King II, MC-130J Commando II, C-5M Super Galaxy and E-3G Sentry during U.S. Transportation Command-tasked missions. This ICR also cleared the Pegasus for the highest priority missions such as direct Presidential support.
With these ICRs, the KC-46A can now support nearly 70% percent of all receiver aircraft that request air refueling support from U.S. Transportation Command, as well as the highest priority missions such as direct Presidential support.
The FAA-certified KC-46A tanker is also slated for Capability Release #1 for the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System. The Air Force will work with industry to equip a number of KC-46A tankers with communication pods to create what’s called the Airborne Edge Network. These pods will essentially turn the tanker into an airborne “internet hotspot” —protected by hardening and shielding technologies, defensive systems and an integrated Tactical Situational Awareness Suite—allowing aircraft to connect and share information instantly.
In his remarks at the arrival event, U.S. Air Force Col. Scott Wiederholt, Commander of JBMDL’s 305th Air Mobility Wing, emphasized the historical importance for the base and the country, “From this day forward, air crew, maintainers, port dogs and support personnel will place their indelible mark upon our nation’s tanker legacy in the KC-46. Just watch. They will astound us all.”