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418th FLTS completes ‘banner’ year, now begins KC-46A Phase III testing

A new KC-46A Pegasus connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle for an aerial refueling test over California in 2018. (Courtesy photo by John D. Parker/Boeing)

A new KC-46A Pegasus connects with an F-15 Strike Eagle for an aerial refueling test over California in 2018. (Courtesy photo by John D. Parker/Boeing)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- The 418th Flight Test Squadron and Global Reach Combined Test Force had a busy and successful 2018.

The squadron oversaw “revolutionary” flight control upgrades for C-17 Globemaster IIIs in landing and air refueling modes; the final parachute certification air drops of NASA's new Orion space capsule; air launch of ballistic missiles to bolster the Missile Defense Agency's defensive shield and worldwide testing of a new avionics suite for the C-5 Galaxy.

The 418th FLTS’s continued testing on the KC-46A Pegasus program informed the decision for the Air Force officially accepting the new generation tanker Jan. 10, marking a major milestone for the next generation tanker and allowing Airmen to begin operational testing and flight training.

“2018 was a banner year for the 418th (FLTS) and our busiest yet,” said Lt. Col. Paul Calhoun, 418th FLTS commander. “We are looking forward to transitioning to more local Phase III KC-46 testing this year as we continue to support worldwide test efforts for C-5 and MDA.”

As it turned out, 2018 ended on a rather serendipitous note for the Global Reach CTF.

“In a moment of perfect harmony, we discovered that, quite by accident, the 418th (FLTS) flew exactly 418 sorties in 2018 - a year that will go down in 418th history as one of our most prolific ever,” said Calhoun.

It was noted that KC-46 sorties are tracked separately and not part of the 418.

Now, the squadron will begin Phase III testing for the KC-46, which is a transition from Boeing-led testing out of Seattle to Air Force-led testing at Edwards Air Force Base.

“Phase III is a 15-month period where the Air Force will certify fleet aircraft to refuel or be refueled by the KC-46,” Calhoun said. “There is also a data collection effort for (simulation) certification during this time frame. This will support initial operational testing by providing the (operational testing) community with needed certified aerial refueling pairs.”

In the past couple of years, when the KC-46 came to Edwards AFB for a few months at a time, Phase II testing was led by Boeing. Calhoun said Phase III is the final phase of KC-46 developmental testing and the tanker will be a regular fixture here.

“Depending on the scope of the follow-on flight test program for continuing KC-46 upgrades after initial developmental testing, we may have a KC-46 at Edwards (AFB) from now on for years to come. There will be a second KC-46 arriving the week of Jan. 21 to further augment the Phase III testing effort,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun added that the KC-46 test team has overcome incredible schedule and technical challenges enabling the Air Force to accept delivery of the first KC-46 this month.

“Though the level of effort alone was laudable, I am most proud of that team for their rigorous analysis which enabled them to clearly articulate significant technical issues to our warfighter customer,” said Calhoun. “Due to their strenuous efforts, the Air Force and Boeing are on a path to correct all significant deficiencies and ensure the warfighter has the tools necessary to project American power for decades to come.”

The KC-46A Pegasus is intended to start replacing the Air Force's aging tanker fleet, which has been refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46A will provide aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and allied nation aircraft.

The KC-46 is one of 24 active test projects in the 418th FLTS, ensuring 2019 will be another banner year for the Global Reach CTF.

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