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KC-46A Pegasus tanker completes first flight around the world

By Sommer Brokaw
A 22nd Air Refueling Wing KC-46A refuels a C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Lewis McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing over the Arabian Gulf on Nov. 23. Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider/U.S. Air Force
A 22nd Air Refueling Wing KC-46A refuels a C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Lewis McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing over the Arabian Gulf on Nov. 23. Photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider/U.S. Air Force

Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force said Thursday that the KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker has finished its first flight around the world.

A KC-46A from the 22nd Air Refueling Wing stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas completed a seven-leg, 13 day journey from Nov. 13-26, which included a 2019 Dubai Air Show debut, the Air Force statement said.

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The Dubai Air Show is considered one of the premier aviation and air industry events in the Middle East, featuring 161 aircraft from around the world and resulting in over $54 billion in aviation related deals.

Following the air show, the Pegasus flew to Qatar, where it refueled a C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Lewis McChord's 62nd Airlift Wing over the Arabian Gulf, marking its first refueling mission in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, according to the Air Force.

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Among other stops, the KC-46A flew into Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia on a small British Indian Ocean Territory Island, a Guam base and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, before heading home to McConnell.

"Our operators and maintainers had the privilege of circumnavigating the globe in the Air Force's newest and most capable air refueling platform," said Col. Thad Middleton, 22nd Operations Group commander and subject matter expert for the flight. "We have worked with our partners at the Tanker Airlift Control Center on previous overseas missions, but our movement across the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the South Pacific allowed us to truly flex the system. It goes without saying, but the crew members gained invaluable training in terms of oceanic procedures, unfamiliar airfield operations and dynamic mission planning."

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The KC-46A is currently going through operational testing and evaluation as it prepares to serve as the Air Force's next generation refueling platform.

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The aerial refueling tanker has had testing issues, including cargo restraint devices breaking open during evaluation flights, which Defense News first reported on in September.

The U.S. Air Force also approved a cargo lock fix last month after they were found to come loose during flight, endangering people on the aircraft.

"Boeing designed the KC-46 to carry passengers, cargo and patients," its website says.

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The aerospace company has paid more than $3.5 billion of its own money to fund ongoing technical issues, of which the cargo issue is the fourth.

Boeing also used its own money to fund corrections to a problem with the tanker's remote vision system where imagery looks warped or misleading in certain lighting conditions, instances of the fuel boom scraping against the airframe of the receiver aircraft, and a requirement to redesign the boom to accommodate the A-10 plane.

"Missions like this are instrumental in helping our Airmen work through the challenges we've experienced with the KC-46 program," said Col. Richard Tanner, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander, said of the worldwide journey. "The operational experience our crews gained during this around-the-globe trip will pay long term dividends as the Pegasus becomes a significant portion of our Air Force's future tanker fleet."

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