• Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gavin Hameed
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

The 22nd Air Refueling Wing received its first sets of KC-46A Wing Air Refueling Pods (WARP), which will undergo extensive Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation (IOT&E), as well as increase the aircraft’s air refueling capabilities for probe and drogue - equipped receivers.

On March 5, 2024, the 22nd Maintenance Squadron installed its first set of WARPs onto a KC-46. The installation of the pods was overseen by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC), as well as the 22nd and 931st Air Refueling Wings.

McConnell is the first KC-46 main operating base to receive the pods to assist AFOTEC as they execute IOT&E.

The process of getting the WARPs certified has been in the works since 2019.

“We've gone through numerous plans, processes and training events to reach this point,” said Col. Robert Meadows, 22nd Maintenance Group commander. “Over the next two months, we plan to conduct flights with other aircraft to test the pods. This will provide training for our aircrews and maintenance teams on servicing and inspecting the pods on the wings, which will enhance the capabilities of the KC-46.”

WARPs are mounted on the aircraft’s wings, allowing the KC-46 to refuel two aircraft simultaneously.

“Decreasing the amount of time receivers spend refueling is important,” said Master Sgt. Kyle VanderWagen, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center deputy test director. “WARPs should allow us offload fuel twice as fast to probe and drogue equipped receivers, which allows them to get back to their primary mission quicker.”

On March 19, 2024, the 344th Air Refueling Squadron flew its first air refueling flight utilizing the WARPs, where they refueled two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets out of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. On March 20, the 349th ARS repeated the task with Marine AV-8 Harriers from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

“We've been waiting for a while to get started on using WARPs,” said Airman 1st Class Cord Nakaahiki, 344th ARS boom operator. “Using the new system felt just like our usual practice on simulators, which made using the real thing pretty straightforward. To be out there flying them has been exciting and rewarding.”

During the IOT&E, the KC-46 will refuel U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine airframes that receive fuel utilizing their probe and drogue systems.

“The WARPs are an optional capability that was included in the original design of the KC-46, so there is very little difference in handling characteristics of the aircraft,” said Capt. Taylor Johnson, 344th ARS KC-46 Chief pilot. “The big challenge is making sure aircrews are properly trained and understand the additional considerations with WARPs installed on the aircraft, so they can properly execute missions.”

This testing phase concentrates on performing operational evaluations and training exercises to ensure proficiency among aircrews and maintenance teams with the new system.

“Team McConnell has been an invaluable partner during IOT&E and we are extremely thankful for their dedication and support,” said VanderWagen.

The 22nd ARW will continue evaluating the WARPs in the following months to improve the KC-46's efficiency and flexibility. Through these efforts, the 22nd ARW is demonstrating its commitment to excellence and leadership in aerial refueling.