United States Air Force Captain Michelle McMillen piloted crucial flights of the KC-46A Pegasus before. However, nothing compared to the uniqueness of the flight she was preparing to take from Boeing Field – located about nine miles south of downtown Seattle – in late October.
As Capt. McMillen toured Boeing’s Everett Modification Center – where the tanker she was about to deliver to the U.S. Air Force had its combat-ready defensive systems installed – she explained why the 64th tanker to join USAF’s fleet would be a family affair.
“The opportunity presented itself for me to deliver a KC-46A to McConnell Air Force Base,” she said. “I let my leadership know that, ‘Hey, I actually have cousins who build the aircraft. I’d really like to be involved with a delivery if the opportunity ever came about.’”
Chad Holliston, one of McMillen’s cousins, is a KC-46 manufacturing manager who has worked on all but two of the aerial refuelers built for USAF. His brother, Wade, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and heavy structures technician who often works on the KC-46A.
“It’s a pretty cool connection with my brother and I that do work here together,” Chad said. “And then we’ve got our cousin who is anywhere in the world flying the tankers that we’re building.”
“The KC-46 has led me to Europe, Iceland, Alaska, you name it,” Capt. McMillen said. “Being a tanker pilot is so cool. Bringing the fuel to the fight and supporting those on the ground has just been phenomenal.”
The family’s military roots run deep. Grandparents on both sides of the family have served in uniform, as well as aunts and uncles. On the morning of the delivery, McMillen and her cousins found themselves in the same room at Boeing’s Military Delivery Center in Tukwila, Washington.
“We’re all from Washington so it’s been really awesome to come back to my home state,” said McMillen, who was born and raised in the Columbia River Gorge town of White Salmon. “It’s not often that the military and your home life join together to have a special opportunity like this.”
For Chad, who lives in Everett, the reunion sparked a memory of the first time his cousin told him she started flying the KC-46A at a family Christmas party in 2019.
“I think I kind of lit up a little bit when she told me that and I was like, ‘Just so you know, that’s the program I work on. Those are the planes that I build every single day.’”
Nearly three years later, he and Wade were on hand to watch Capt. McMillen pull the wheels up on the Air Force’s newest aircraft and cruise into the cloudy Seattle sky.
“It gives me a sense of family pride,” said Chad, who recalled the cousins gathering as kids at their grandfather’s cabin near Trout Lake, Washington.
“She’s a pilot for the Air Force. She’s flying our tanker… I think it’s very awesome.”
“Once we’re wheels up and it’s given to the Air Force, it’s almost like they’re giving it off to me and then I get to go employ it in the theater,” McMillen said.
“I know our grandfather would be super proud of all of us to see all of this coming together.”