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US Air Force performs KC-46A testing with B-2, EC-130H

The US Air Force (USAF) recently performed Boeing KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker testing with the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and the Lockheed Martin EC-130H Compass Call wide-area coverage electronic attack and offensive counter information aircraft.

The KC-46A made its first mid-air connection with the B-2 on 23 April over the skies of Edwards Air Force Base in California as part of Phase 3 testing. The USAF said in a 5 June statement that it was very interested in testing the KC-46A with the B-2 because the Spirit is the first aircraft with a very dark paint scheme to test with the Pegasus. It also takes up a large portion of the tanker’s remote vision system (RVS) screen. Boeing installed a software fix for the RVS that would provide aerial refuelling operators better visibility for operations to help avoid unintended boom contacts with receiver aircraft, which is crucial for aircraft such as the B-2 that have low observability coatings.

The B-2 (left) refuels with the KC-46A tanker during Phase 2 testing on 23 April 2019. (USAF)

The B-2 (left) refuels with the KC-46A tanker during Phase 2 testing on 23 April 2019. (USAF)

It was also the first time a flying wing aircraft refuelled with the KC-46A. This pushed the USAF to evaluate unique aerodynamic influences while proving system capabilities. The air force said it was looking for specific data on the bow-wave effect from the tanker on the receiver and how it affected receiver handling qualities, boom handling qualities, and whether the visual reference indicators were satisfactory to both aircrews.

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