Airmen perform first Reserve-lead KC-46 cargo load mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein
  • 931st Air Refueling Wing

Further enhancing McConnell’s KC-46A Pegasus cargo load capabilities, eight Airmen from all three Reserve McConnell air refueling squadrons participated in a cargo load that flew more than 18,500 miles, traveling from the plains of Kansas, to the land down under, Australia.

In addition to McConnell Reserve aircrew members of 924th, 905th and 18th Air Refueling Squadrons, two members of the 931st Maintenance Group, one member of the 22nd Maintenance Group, and one evaluator from Travis Air Force Base, California, were also involved to ensure the KC-46 was ready to make the six-day journey from McConnell to Royal Australian Air Force Richmond, New South Wales, Australia, and back.

Since receiving the KC-46 in January 2019, the boom operators’ role as load masters for both strategic airlift and air refueling as the tanker has increased, as the storage space for mobility pallets is greater than the KC-135 Stratotanker.

Though all four boom operators from the 924 ARS and one from the 18 ARS had prior cargo load experience with the KC-135 Stratotanker, all KC-46 cargo loading missions require different loading methods and techniques. The trip to RAAF Base Richmond strengthened the boom operators’ abilities to rapidly transport larger cargo on the KC-46.

“We were trained to load cargo before on the KC-135, but we didn’t do it very often,” said Master Sgt. Bryan Fehrenbach, 924th ARS boom operator. “This training helps us to fully utilize the capabilities of the KC-46, to take cargo and also passengers and medical evacuation.”

The crew left McConnell early on August 15, and picked up their first cargo load of more than 11,000 pounds at Travis AFB. This cargo was then delivered to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. Despite the Airmen’s experience, Fehrenbach says cargo loading is always a challenge.

“With the aircraft, there are always different restrictions with weight and where it is supposed to go, because you don’t want to overload the aircraft,” he said. “You also have to maintain the center of gravity.”

After offloading and uploading more cargo pallets at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the crew headed to Andersen Air Force Base, Andersen AFB, on August 16. The crew then traveled all the way to the Southern Hemisphere, landing at RAAF Base on August 17.

For Traditional Reservist Senior Airman Madison Doherty, 924th ARS boom operator, this was her first time performing a cargo load on a KC-46. She said this training allowed her to utilize the newest method for cargo loading.

“When loading cargo there are three methods to use to see if a pallet is able to load,” Doherty said. “Method Three is the newest, and it includes a series of charts and rules we use to make sure we don’t exceed a weight or pounds per linear inch on a KC-46.”

To get back to McConnell, the team did the reverse trip back, uploading cargo in Andersen AFB to deliver to Travis AFB.

According to Fehrenbach, the Reserve aircrews plan to do more cargo loads in more challenging scenarios in the future, further extending the Reserve flying squadrons capabilities overseas, and the reach of the 931st Air Refueling Wing and Team McConnell overall.