USAF tests wing aerial refuelling pods of KC-46 Pegasus tanker

25 November 2019 (Last Updated November 25th, 2019 10:07)

The US Air Force (USAF) has tested the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refuelling and transport aircraft’s wing aerial refuelling pods (WARPs) at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

USAF tests wing aerial refuelling pods of KC-46 Pegasus tanker
A KC-46 Pegasus with a wing aerial refuelling pod on each wing. Credit: USAF / Giancarlo Casem.

The US Air Force (USAF) has tested the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refuelling and transport aircraft’s wing aerial refuelling pods (WARPs) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, US.

The WARP systems provide the KC-46 with the capability to refuel two military jets at the same time via drogue chutes.

Testing was completed with F-18D, F-18G and AV-8B aircraft.

418th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) KC-46 experimental test pilot major Jacob Lambach said: “With WARPs, the KC-46 will be able to refuel two fighter aircraft at the same time; as opposed to a centreline drogue system, where only one aircraft can refuel at a time.

“Fighter pilots usually show up in pairs and each has to watch and wait while their wingman refuels. Fighters’ combat mission isn’t to sit behind the tanker; it’s to fight. If we can refuel them both at the same time, they each only spend half as much time ‘out of the fight’.”

Before fielding the WARPs capability, a team of engineers evaluated hose reel response, fuel system and free air stability, among others.

The aerial refuelling mission requires the receiving pilot to make sure the drogue basket is properly aligned to the receiver’s probe, Lambach said.

Explaining the challenges with mid-air refuelling exercise involving multiple aircraft, 418th FLTS aerial refuelling engineer Nathan Montoya said: “The biggest challenge when testing with dual WARPs is making sure there is always positive communications and situational awareness between the test assets at the same time.

“This is something that is rarely done in test, as boom and centreline drogue operations only refuel one receiver at a time.”

The USAF recently awarded a $2.6bn contract to Boeing for the lot five production of the KC-46A.

The service banned the use of the aircraft for cargo and personnel transport due to flaws identified in the cargo locks.

Boeing developed a fix for the locks and expects to install it on in-production aircraft. The company will also retrofit units already delivered to the USAF.