KC-46 Refuels a Stealth Aircraft for the First Time

A KC-46A Pegasus connects with an F-35 Lightning II in the skies over California on Jan. 22, 2019. Air Force photo by Ethan Wagner.

The KC-46 kicked off its next phase of testing by refueling a stealth aircraft for the first time, the Air Force announced.

On Jan. 22, a KC-46 from the 418th Flight Test Squadron connected with an F-35 from the 461st Flight Test Squadron, according to a Feb. 14 release.

The test was the first flight test in phase three, in which the tanker will certify with more receiving aircraft over the course of 15 months.

The test came as Boeing and the Air Force are working to address deficiencies with the aircraft’s refueling system, including one that could cause scrapes to receiving aircraft. This could be a significant problem for stealth aircraft, such as the F-35, that rely on low-observable paint. If that coating is damaged, it could cause a reduction in the aircraft’s stealth capabilities.

The Air Force has received at least six KC-46s at McConnell AFB, Kan., and Altus AFB, Okla.