Air Force Flies New Tanker for 36 Hours Straight
It’s part of a Pentagon trend of wringing surprising performance out of existing weapons.
The U.S. Air Force flew a KC-46 aerial tanker nonstop for 16,000 miles, just to prove it could be done.
It’s the latest move by the Air Mobility Command, the Air Force organization that oversees cargo planes and tankers, to look for new ways to use its aircraft.
During the 36-hour flight, which started and ended at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, the plane refueled Hawaii-based F-22 fighters and was refueled in-flight itself three times.
“This total force mission boldly highlights the imperative to think differently, change the way we do business, and provide options to the joint force,” Gen. Mike Minihan, the Air Mobility Command boss, said in a statement.
Last month, the Air Force flew a KC-46 with only one pilot “to validate procedures for operating with a limited aircrew for certain potential high-end combat scenarios.”
Built to replace the Eisenhower-era KC-135 and the Reagan-era KC-10, the Boeing-made KC-46 has experienced numerous developmental setbacks that have prevented the Air Force from using the tanker for a full complement of missions. Even though some components of the plane’s refueling system won’t be fully fixed until 2025, Minihan in September cleared the KC-46 to fly various missions—even in combat.
So far, the planes have been heavily flown on training missions stateside and have even been used to support NATO missions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
As a whole, the Pentagon has been looking for new ways to use existing weapons as it looks for ways to counter China. That has included modifying SM-6 air defense missiles to also target and sink ships.
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