MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. --
The KC-46A Pegasus joined the ranks of Team McConnell today, and with its arrival, a new era of aerial refueling and mobility capabilities has dawned.
Though the KC-46A arrival is significant to all at McConnell, the arrival of the first two aircraft also represents a growth in the 931st Air Refueling Wing's air power and personnel.
The 931 ARW will be the first associate Reserve unit to fly and maintain the new KC-46A. The first Reserve squadron to the fly the KC-46A, the 924th Air Refueling Squadron, stood up at McConnell in 2017. To meet this requirement, the 931 ARW has steadily grown more 600 members, to more than 700 members after its re-designation as a wing in 2016. The 931 ARW will eventually grow to more than 1,000 members.
To meet this growth, Team McConnell prepared and upgraded its infrastructure to support the new aircraft and the Airmen who will operate, maintain, and train with it since learning the aircraft would be based here in the spring of 2014.
The Program Integration Office, which united members of the 931 ARW and the 22 ARW, the active duty host at McConnell, was charged with preparing the base for the introduction of the KC-46A. The office as acted as a voice for McConnell during KC-46A discussions with Air Mobility Command, Air Force Reserve Command, the System Program Office, Boeing, FlightSafety International, the Army Corps of Engineers, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and other agencies.
"The 931st Air Refueling Wing has worked diligently with our active duty host to ensure that the total force is ready to bring all of the advanced capabilities the KC-46A will bring to the fight," said Maj. Chris Markley, 924 ARS PIO and pilot. "Our association has grown stronger than it's ever been because our operations and maintenance squadrons are embracing the total force integration construct and working toward a shared goal," Markley said. "In the past, we've worked more independently, but with the transition to the [KC-46A] we have the opportunity to shape the TFI to reach its full potential and serve as a model for follow-on KC-46A bases."
Markley, who has worked with the PIO since the announcement in 2014, has worked alongside Reserve and active duty counterparts to ensure the base is ready to accept the KC-46A, and to execute its critical mission. He believes Team McConnell is able to promote these total force efficiencies while still preserving the heritage and independence of both the 931 ARW and the 22 ARW, as well as the 184th Intelligence Wing.
"We've even been successful in leveraging the capabilities and knowledge of our Air National Guard counterparts in the 184 IW," said Markley. "They have graciously provided needed expertise and guidance to enable us to embrace some of the aircraft's unique capabilities, and have committed to continuing to support us as we field the KC-46A."
Senior Master Sgt. James Guldjord, the KC-46A Enlisted Aircrew Development superintendent and 18th Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, also worked with Markley on the Reserve side of the PIO office. As a boom operator, Guldjord is excited about the storage capability of the KC-46A. Particularly the aircraft's accessibility for pallets, which can hold passengers and air cargo.
"As a boom operator coming from a KC-135 background, the cargo loading will be far more capable than what we had before because the KC-46A is developed for them," said Guldjord. "The current pallet system for KC-135 is effective, but it was developed after the fact, whereas the KC-46A was constructed with an effective pallet loading system in mind."
Both Guldjord and Markley were part of the McConnell team charged with flying the first two KC-46As from Everett Delivery Center, in Washington, to Hangar 1126 at McConnell. The aircraft were "towed" in before a ceremony Jan. 25. The ceremony included speeches from active duty and Reserve leadership, including Col. Phil Heseltine, 931 ARW commander.
"Today is a capstone of an amazing journey of preparation, and it shows," said Heseltine. "The KC-46's role in this strategy is enormous: with passenger movement and aeromedical evacuation, we touch the entire globe."
Heseltine also thanked his total force partners and the local community.
"To the thousands of Guard and Reserve Citizen Airmen, families, friends and civilians who serve, balancing a civilian career so we can be a part of our Air Force -- which is so much bigger than each of us individually -- thank you," said Heseltine. "Every time you put on this uniform you reaffirm your oath to defend this country."
The KC-46A will eventually replace the U.S. Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers which have been the backbone of the refueling fleet for more than 50 years. The KC-46A will provide more refueling capability, an increased capacity for cargo, and modern aeromedical evacuation capabilities.
The KC-46A is expected to provide aerial refueling to Air Force, joint and partner nation aircraft. McConnell will receive 18 tankers in the first round of deliveries and will end up with a fleet of 34.