USAF’s Youngest Tanker KC-46A One Step Closer to Playing in the Big Boys’ League

The KC-46A Pegasus tanker was introduced in 2019 and is still in its testing period 9 photos
Photo: Boeing
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The U.S Air Force is demonstrating its commitment to developing the existing tanker fleet and current air refueling capabilities, after a recent milestone took the KC-46A Pegasus one step further to the next level.
Modern tankers have been around for decades, but their importance for USAF’s operations worldwide has increased exponentially over the past few years. According to Air Mobility Command (AMC) officials, a plan was launched at the beginning of this year, with the objective of developing solutions for the Air Force’s “extensive aerial refueling requirements”.

Known as Interim Capability Release (ICR), the program is focused on growing KC-46A’s capabilities, in order to extend its operational use.

The KC-46A Pegasus is the youngest in AMC’s tanker line-up. The venerable Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker has been fulfilling its duty since 1956, while the Boeing KC-10 Extender entered service around 20 years later, doubling as a transport aircraft as well. As you can tell, is was about time for a younger model, and that was the KC-46A (another Boeing), introduced in 2019.

While still in its testing or “maturing” period, the new tanker is still subject to restrictions and isn’t yet cleared for combat missions. However, as the next-generation tanker, its ultimate role is to eventually replace the older generation models and bring increased capabilities to the fleet.

The recent milestone in its development was approving the refueling plane's Centerline Drogue System. The probe-and-drogue is a refueling method where a probe from the receiving aircraft connects to a hose from the tanker, with a funnel-like (drogue) attachment.

With this new approval, the KC-46A is considered ready to perform this type of refueling. According to AMC, the Air Force will continue to use the boom air refueling method for training and exercise missions, before the probe and drogue air refueling capability becomes fully operational for the KC-46A.

There’s still a long journey ahead of the young tanker before it reaches full operational capability (FOC), but its power is growing step by step, until it becomes the number 1 USAF tanker.
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About the author: Otilia Drăgan
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Otilia believes that if it’s eco, green, or groundbreaking, people should know about it (especially if it's got wheels or wings). Working in online media for over five years, she's gained a deeper perspective on how people everywhere can inspire each other.
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