First in-air refueling between KC-46, AFSOC CV-22

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Max J. Daigle
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

The 20th Special Operations Squadron and 349th Air Refueling Squadron, assigned to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, brought a CV-22 Osprey and KC-46 Pegasus together for in-air refueling training over Cannon AFB early June. The flight was the first time a KC-46 refueled an Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22. 

“This being the first time we operationally refueled with a KC-46, we were able to get some good video for training and development,” said Maj. Anthony Belviso, CV-22 aircraft commander. “We were also able to get some understanding of what it feels like to fly behind the jet, and work on some different refueling techniques and practices.” 

One of the most renowned aircraft in the Air Force’s fleet, the CV-22 tiltrotor aircraft combines the vertical flight qualities of a helicopter with the fuel efficiency and speed of a fixed wing plane. This combination makes it the ideal aircraft for conducting infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces across long distances. 

A new capability the KC-46 brings to the table is a hose and drogue system in the same centerline position as it’s refueling boom pipe for fixed-wing aircraft. 

“This capability allows the KC-46 to the refuel the Osprey and other drogue compatible receiver aircraft without any modification,” said Maj. Benjamin Chase, KC-46 aircraft commander. “This is important because it enables flexibility in mission planning and limits the amount of maintenance it takes to prepare for air refueling, especially compared to most aircraft in the legacy tanker fleet.” 

The KC-46 is not the only aircraft the CV-22 can receive fuel from while flying. However, its advanced refueling, communications and defensive systems, range and large fuel storage capabilities make it an ideal system for getting CV-22s the fuel they need, even in or near contested environments. 

“The CV-22 is specifically designed for long range missions, and when you add on top of that an aerial refueling capability you can extend that distance to the point where you’re only limited by how long the crew is able to fly,” Belviso said. “The KC-46 can get enough fuel to get multiple CV-22s that much further both into and out of combat.” 

“The 22 ARW has showcased the capability of the KC-46 to operate out of austere locations in recent exercises,” Chase said. “This is unique among tanker aircraft and replicates the types of environments the KC-46 to operate out of when refueling the Osprey in real-world missions.” 

Another advantage of CV-22s being able to refuel from KC-46s is that it allows for faster refueling during real-world missions. 

“Normally, an MC-130J aircraft would have to go up to a tanker to get fuel, then fly to us and give us that fuel, and would have to repeat that process several times,” Belviso said. “Because KC-46s can refuel us directly, we can go straight to them and get everything done much more quickly.” 

With the successful training mission, both Chase and Belviso said it would provide the data and real-world experience the Air Force’s KC-46 and CV-22 fleets need to ensure the two airframes could work well together for a long time to come. 

“The refueling of the CV-22 marks another success in the program,” Chase said. “It really paves the way for support of the Osprey and other aircraft in the future.”