KC-46 Tanker Refuels a CV-22 Tiltrotor for 1st Time

A KC-46 Pegasus passed fuel to a CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor midair over Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., in June, a further expansion of the tanker’s ability to refuel USAF aircraft, according to an Air Force release.

The KC-46, from the 349th Air Refueling Squadron, refueled a CV-22 Osprey from the 20th Special Operations Squadron, using the centerline hose and drogue system used for helicopters, Navy/Marine Corps aircraft and foreign types. Most USAF aircraft use the boom-type refueling system.

Air Mobility Command recently announced that the new tanker is certified for about 88 percent of all the aircraft types it needs to be able to refuel.

The CV-22’s tiltrotor design allows it to take off and land vertically, but pivot its engines forward for higher-speed and longer-ranged horizontal flight.

The KC-46 is uniquely suited to the CV-22’s needs, said Maj. Anthony Belviso, CV-22 aircraft commander.

“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.” 

As an AFSOC aircraft, meanwhile, the CV-22 often has to operate in contested and austere environments, places where the KC-46 is more suited to go than older tankers.

“The 22nd [Air Refueling Wing] has showcased the capability of the KC-46 to operate out of austere locations in recent exercises,” Maj. Benjamin Chase, KC-46 aircraft commander, said in a statement. “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.” 

The CV-22 is one of the last five aircraft the KC-46 is still not operationally certified to refuel, along with the A-10 attack jet; B-2 bomber; E-4 flying command post; and MC-130H special operations tanker.

However, while the Pegasus hasn’t been cleared to refuel the Osprey for U.S. Transportation Command taskings as part of AMC’s Interim Capability Releases, the Air Force is still conducting tests like the one over Cannon Air Force Base to eventually certify it. And in the case of a national emergency, a KC-46 would be cleared to refuel a CV-22.

Still, the KC-46 continues to not be declared “operational” because of continuing deficiencies with the existing Remote Vision System used by the boom operator—a revised RVS 2.0 is still months away from being installed and certified.