Engineers, technicians support KC-46 tanker testing on the ground

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — Refueling developmental testing with the KC-46A Pegasus is taking place over 1,000 miles away in the Pacific Northwest, with Edwards Air Force Base supporting with chase aircraft.

Base personnel have been working to provide testing support on the ground and in the air. One aspect is the engineering and development of modifications to aircraft to support tanker testing and qualification. 

The aircraft are certified by Edwards AFB personnel to receive fuel from the KC-46, said Rosie Feord, the 412th Test Engineering Division modification manager for the KC-46 program.

A number of aircraft at Edwards AFB have been modified with fuel pressure sensors and a recording device called a battery operated data-10 (BOD-10) acquisition system to record fuel flow and pressure during refueling operations. The data from these aircraft will support air refueling certification: the ability of KC-46 to deliver fuel to a variety of aircraft, and an aircraft’s ability to receive fuel from other tankers. To accomplish this, a number of aircraft — more than 13 different types — will be fitted with the BOD-10 modification, including F-15 Eagles and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs at Eglin AFB, Florida.

The battery-powered unit was chosen because installation is easier and less expensive. The alternative would be building and installing a unit that ran off the aircraft’s internal power.

“We would have to tap into the (aircraft’s) electrical system,” Feord said. “This means we’d have to take the airplane apart and run a bunch of wiring.”

The battery-powered system was designed and built by engineers from the 412th TENG, and model makers and instrumentation technicians in the 412th Maintenance Group’s instrumentation squadron.

In addition to the BOD-10s, work is now underway to build flight test engineer workstations, which will be installed in the KC-46 and collect data for the air refueling certification. According to Feord, these are the most important pieces of the puzzle.

“Without these, ARC can’t happen,” she said.

Greg Didoha, the lead engineer for the workstations, has been working on the design since February 2015.

“The design of the workstation was part of a requirement that we could get a plane out here, put our stuff on really quick, plug into the airplane and go fly test points,” he said. “When they’re all done, we pull of our pallet and the plane goes away.”

Didoha’s design for the workstations started with basic ergonomic requirements. He then had to build in the specific requirements of the flight test engineers. Finally, he had to figure out how to get the station on board the aircraft without breaking anything. The engineer also designed the workstations with the future in mind.

“I decided to look at the design as generic, since we have other (cargo and refueling) planes. So, it’s something we could put in any one of them,” he said. “It may have initially complicated the design, but over time it will help.”

According to Didoha, the workstation is basically modular. It is outfitted with equipment specifically for the KC-46 but could be tailored to other projects without any permanent modification to the structure.

“We can reconfigure it however we want to. If a plane can hold a pallet, we can probably slide this on, reconfigure it and go,” he said.

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