The KC-46 made its landing with its boom dangling below its fuselage and a load of New Hampshire congressional staff members onboard.
A KC-46A Pegasus needed to make an emergency landing this afternoon after a problem with the refueling boom left it dangling below the aircraft. The landing was carried out with 16 people on board — the flight was hosting a congressional delegation — not including the pilots and crewmembers, while the boom was still unintentionally deployed. Corresponding footage of the incident that has since surfaced shows the boom scraping along the runway as the tanker touches down. Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the incident.
The KC-46A in question belonged to the 157th Air Refueling Wing from the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire. The tanker was reportedly joined by an additional KC-46A while taking part in what the 157th described as an “orientation flight,” or an opportunity for interested individuals to fly in U.S. Air Force aircraft in order to gain a unique insight into the service and its flying capabilities.
“The orientation flights of two KC-46 jets were flying a congressional delegation of 16 staffers from the offices of U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and Representatives Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas,” read the 157th’s statement. “During the flight, one of the KC-46s experienced a problem with its refueling boom hoist cable, which resulted in the aircraft landing with the boom extended. Emergency services from the 305th Air Mobility Wing responded and safely secured the scene, with no fire or injuries to crew or passengers.”
The 305th Air Mobility Wing operates out of Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. The official statement explained that the KC-46A affected by the issue with the boom’s hoist cable was redirected to land at this location, while the second KC-46A involved in the orientation flight was then diverted to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire. A third KC-46A also belonging to the 157th happened to be en route from Florida at the time the in-flight emergency was declared but instead diverted to Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst to transport the congressional delegation back to New Hampshire. All aircraft were said to have landed safely.
The KC-46A that suffered the malfunction with the refueling boom’s hoist cable recently made the news for its new paint job. Also known as the Spirit of Portsmouth, the one KC-46A to receive the patriotic makeover out of the 12 total KC-46A jets assigned to the 157th was given its new look this July to honor the U.S. Air Force’s 75th birthday, as well as the 400th anniversary of the founding of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
While the boldly painted Spirit of Portsmouth making an emergency landing on its boom is unfortunate in terms of optics, and especially as part of a congressional delegation flight, the issue only adds to the growing list of unfortunate circumstances that have been plaguing KC-46 tankers as of late.
“These are very rare events, maybe one every five years. Drogues are a bit more common,” said Robert Hopkins, a veteran C-135 pilot, aerospace author, historian, and sometimes War Zone contributor, when asked about the precedent for such a malfunction.
The statement released by the 157th Air Refueling Wing neglected to mention if an investigation had been launched into the matter, so it is unclear at present whether or not the Air Force will treat this as a one-off issue or as a problem that could later affect the entire KC-46 fleet. The damage to the boom is likely substantial so some type of investigation should be warranted. Hopefully, it is not a systemic problem as the KC-46 is still years away, at the soonest, from reaching fully operational status due to its other issues.
Considering that this story is developing, The War Zone will be sure to supplement the article with any updates as they become available.