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AAFB KC-46 aircrews test skills at Combat Raider 21

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A KC-46 Pegasus of the 97th Air Mobility Wing takes off July 20, 2021 during the Combat Raider exercise at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Combat Raider is an annual large force training exercise designed to train various aircrews in high-end, realistic scenarios supporting a full range of operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Taylor Solberg)

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Two KC-46A Pegasus pilots from the 97th Air Mobility Wing, Altus Air Force Base, Okla., conduct preflight checks for an incentive flight at Ellsworth AFB, S.D., July 21, 2021. The KC-46A visited Ellsworth to participate in exercise Combat Raider 21. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quentin K. Marx)

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F-15E Strike Eagles line up in a formation next to a KC-46 Pegasus for exercise Combat Raider 21, July 23, 2021. The F-15E was designed in the 1980s for long-range, high-speed interdiction without relying on escort or electronic-warfare aircraft. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

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A KC-46 Pegasus from the 97th Air Mobility Wing takes off July 22, 2021 during the Combat Raider exercise at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Combat Raider is an annual large force training exercise designed to train various aircrews in high-end, realistic scenarios supporting a full range of operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Taylor Solberg)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.-- Members of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron flew two KC-46 Pegasus aircraft to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, to participate in exercise Combat Raider 21, July 19-23, 2021.

The aircrews simulated a combat raider scenario where one “blue tanker” refueled the defense team and the other “red tanker” supplied fuel for the aggressor aircraft.

Maj. Christopher Gathmann, 56th Air Refueling Squadron director of operations, said the exercise was an important benchmark in developing KC-46 aircrews.

“Our goal was to integrate the (boom) and really use its full potential,” he said. “Not just as a tanker, but as a tool to increase the situational awareness of all the forces.”

During the exercise, the two tankers refueled approximately 34 planes from multiple bases, including: F-35 Lightning IIs, F-15 Strike Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers, F-16 Fighting Falcons and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft.

“It's a little bit more dynamic going out on the road, working with different units and fighters, and being positioned at a base that's not home base. This exercise was good insight into how to fly this jet,” said Tech. Sgt. Amy James, 56th Air Refueling Squadron instructor boom operator.

Altus AFB has a large support and maintenance team for every aircraft, so anytime there is an issue, Airmen are on site to fix it. That is not always how operations work in the field. Additionally, the exercise provided insight into possible improvements needed on the aircraft and created scenarios that aircrew would have to overcome in the operational field.

“This exercise is about more than training experience,” said Gathmann. “It’s also about getting the KC-46 outside of its normal comfort zone, with just a couple of crew chiefs and the minimal amount of tools, and seeing how it holds up.”

Altus AFB trains boom operators and pilots on the KC-46; therefore, these exercises are vital to the mission to train exceptional mobility airmen.

The training mission directly relates to this exercise,” said Gathmann. “This exercise was a way to increase the knowledge and background of the instructors so they can answer students’ questions.”

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