U.S. Air Force Completes Flight Test with Single Pilot Operation

03rd Nov 2022

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing flew a KC-46A Pegasus without a copilot Oct. 25 to validate procedures for operating with a limited aircrew for certain potential high-end combat scenarios.

This employment concept allows the KC-46 to complete its primary mission with a reduced crew complement when needed to rapidly launch aircraft with threats inbound or extend long-range operations in the air with offset crews.

“In wartime, airfields are static targets, as are any aircraft on the airfield when an attack is inbound,” said Col. Nate Vogel, 22nd ARW commander. “But once airborne, the aircraft is a mobile platform capable of maneuver and continuing to provide mission capability for the combatant commander.”

The mission was executed inside military test airspace and included two KC-46 sorties with a reduced crew complement of only a single pilot and boom operator. The first sortie flew the pattern only, followed by a debrief and assessment. The second sortie immediately followed and accomplished a full mission profile including ground operations; preflight tasks; takeoff; aerial refueling rendezvous; air refueling on-load and offload; landing; and debrief. The boom operator was co-located in the cockpit with the pilot, except when performing boom operations, and a second instructor pilot was on board throughout the entire mission to serve as a safety observer.

The KC-46’s basic crew complement is a pilot, a copilot and a boom operator, with additional aircrew added for long-duration flights. A second KC-46 with a full crew complement of subject matter experts accompanied the first aircraft to provide assistance by radio, if needed.

“This mission was practiced extensively in flight simulators,” Vogel said. “Each phase of evaluation has been carefully considered, taking into account crew safety, aircraft capabilities, and existing federal aviation standards. That allowed us to make a deliberate and thorough analysis of what risks and hurdles are present, how to mitigate those, and allowed us to recommend training requirements to familiarize crews with the basic functions and critical controls of unfamiliar crew positions.”

This flight was part of Air Mobility Command’s broader exploration of tactics, techniques and procedures that address the unique stresses expected in a high-end, peer-competitor fight.

“I have been very clear with my team: victory will be delivered on the back of the mobility air forces, and doing so means taking a hard look at every tool we have at our disposal,” said Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of Air Mobility Command. “The dynamics of the future operating environment require us to think in ways we might not usually think.”

Source: 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Press Release
Photo Credit: United States Air Force

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