KC-46 Successfully Tests Wing Refueling Pods

The KC-46 has successfully completed testing of the aircraft’s wing refueling pods—a key capability of the new tanker.

During the tests at Edwards AFB, Calif., the KC-46 test program used the Wing Aerial Refueling Pods to refuel an AV-8B, F-18D, and F-18G, according to a Nov. 21 release. The pods allow the aircraft to refuel two aircraft simultaneously, as opposed to the majority of the current USAF tanker fleet that can only use a centerline drogue to refuel one aircraft at a time.

“Fighter pilots usually show up in pairs and each has to watch and wait while their wingman refuels,” said Maj. Jacob Lambach, KC-46 experimental test pilot with the 418th Flight Test Squadron, in the release. “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.”

Engineers must still review data before the pod systems can be certified by the Aerial Refueling Certification Agency. The flights tested the stability of the hose and drogue while it is extended and during retraction, along with evaluating any differences between the left and right sides, among other data points. The aircraft flew at different altitudes, airspeeds, various weights, and at different times of day, the release states.

The KC-46 program faces a long road ahead in testing, with continued problems addressing multiple “category one” deficiencies. Most concerning to Air Mobility Command is lingering issues with the aircraft’s remote vision system. Boeing has nine critical parameters that must be met, and the Air Force expects this process to take years. The KC-46 will not complete its initial operational capability test plan until the RVS is fixed, and AMC boss Gen. Maryanne Miller said she does not expect the tanker to be deployable for three to four years.

Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 25 to reflect that a portion of the current tanker fleet already has wing-mounted refueling pods. ​