MCCONNELL AFB, Kan. --– A 344th Air Refueling Squadron aircrew from McConnell Air Force Base was the first KC-46 Pegasus crew to conduct operational test flights using night vision goggles.
The crew of five pilots and a single boom operator performed the first of two NVG training flights beginning April 21, 2020 over Joint Base Charleston and North Auxiliary Field, South Carolina. The training opportunity evaluated the aircrew’s ability to perform tactical takeoffs and landing using NVGs.
The test flights enable crews to gain valuable experience using NVGs with the new airframe as well as earn a certification to instruct future Pegasus pilots.
“NVG operations allow the KC-46 fleet to operate out of airfields that would otherwise be limited to day-use only or that have lighting outages or deficiencies that would not guarantee uninterrupted operations,” said Maj. Jacob Belka, 22nd Operations Group KC-46 evaluator pilot.
The crew began the initial operational test and evaluation of NVG flights to examine how the new airframe and pilots perform. The success of these flights are necessary for the KC-46 to become fully operational. The findings during these flights will be used to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for future Pegasus pilots.
“The biggest challenge to flying on NVGs is the lack of color cues and poor binocular vision,” said Col. Mark Baran, 22nd Air Refueling Wing vice commander. “This makes it a little more difficult for the pilots to judge things like height and distance using their vision.”
Despite the limitations and challenges of the NVGs, they provide a unique mission capability that allows crews to operate during low-light emission environments. The North Auxiliary Field was specifically designated for NVG training and tactical approach and landings.
Members of McConnell’s 924th ARS KC-46 reserve unit participated in the evening’s events conducting aerial refueling training enroute to North Auxiliary Airfield.
“I am so humbled to be a part of the first NVG group,” said Belka. “I am passionate about making this program a success and helping those that follow to be successful. When we are progressing, we help the rest of our Air Force, joint and coalition members to progress.”