ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The 97th Air Mobility Wing welcomed its first KC-46A Pegasus Feb. 8, 2019. The “Spirit of the Mighty 97th” was the first KC-46 to be delivered to the formal training unit at Altus Air Force Base.
More than 1,000 military and community members attended the arrival celebration for the jet, including Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, U.S. Sens. from Oklahoma Jim Inhofe and James Lankford, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, and Air Education and Training Command commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast.
“Moments like this deserve our ceremony,” said Kwast, “because it honors and dignifies the service and sacrifice each day; putting one brick in at a time, flying one mission at a time that builds the legacy of air power. And it’s you that makes it happen.”
Anticipating the aircraft’s arrival, crowds gathered outside a hangar to watch the plane touch down on the runway and make its way across base.
Once assembled inside the hangar, ceremony guests were addressed by an all-star lineup of speakers.
The KC-46’s arrival represents the beginning of a new era in air-to-air refueling capability for the joint force, which is essential to the U.S. national security and its ability to project airpower around the world.
Addressing the crowd, Goldfein said, as the Chief of Staff, it is his duty to ensure every Airman sent on a mission is properly organized, trained, equipped and well-led so the mission can get accomplished. He said this aircraft and the new capability it brings helps him to meet this goal.
“Today is about fulfilling a part of this obligation,” said Goldfein, “because today we equip our Airmen at Altus and put in their hands the finest tanker on the planet.”
With greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities compared to the KC-135, the KC-46 will provide next generation aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.
The 97th AMW will be the primary training unit for all KC-46 operators.
“Think of all this,” said Dr. Joe Leverett, chairman of the Altus Military Affairs Committee. “Every time you see a C-17 or a KC-135, and now a KC-46, in the world, Altus, a little town of 20,000 touched those lives. It makes me very proud to represent Altus.”
97th AMW commander Col. Eric Carney spoke about the excitement of receiving the new airframe, but also the vital duty of preparing the Air Force’s future pilots, loadmasters and boom operators. “We take it personally because we have always known, it is never about the machines that come off the assembly line, but rather the capability that will lift off of our flightline,” said Carney. “It is the Airmen of the 97th aboard whatever machine we provide them who will play a vital role in U.S. national security.”
The ceremony ended with the hangar doors opening to reveal the Spirit of the Mighty 97th. Active duty, civilian employees and community members went outside to get their first, up-close look at the future of air-refueling technology.
“Thank you for being here,” said Kwast. “Thank you for honoring us with your presence, and thank you for recognizing this is more than just a delivery – this is the celebration of the spirit of America, where every generation must fight for freedom and use new tools of technology as tools of national power to defend our heritage.”
“The men and women of the 97th will now begin a new evolution, making KC-46 history,” said Carney. “And it is the Airmen of this wing who will push the KC-46 to a warfighting capability, far beyond what we can envision today.”
Since being named the Air Force’s future KC-46 formal training unit in April 2014, the 97th AMW has been preparing to receive the Pegasus, constructing the new formal training center, fuselage trainer and hangar extensions, and standing up the very first KC-46 squadron.
With the KC-46 now at Altus, the Air Force will begin the next process of Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation in order to evaluate operational effectiveness and suitability ensuring that it is prepared to perform its mission. Goldfein is optimistic when they complete testing, the Pegasus will come out on top.
“I’ll tell you that this aircraft is going to be absolutely brilliant when it comes to being a stable platform in some of the toughest conditions in really bad places around the world to ensure our crews get what they need,” said Goldfein.