Preparing for the Pegasus

A team of field service representatives gets ready to welcome the first KC-46A Pegasus to Travis Air Force Base.

March 31, 2024 in Defense

Even with more than 40 years of aviation experience under his belt, there’s still an event that makes Jerome Williams feel like a kid again.

“There’s nothing like getting a new airplane,” he said. “It’s like a new toy, a new car.”

The U.S. Air Force veteran is the site manager at Travis Air Force Base who manages a team of KC-46 field service representatives, or FSRs. Simply put, Williams’ team provides technical support and assistance to the customer operating the aircraft.

“They’re the knowledge base for the customer,” he said. “When the customer needs support, they’re going to go to our FSR team and they’re going to get that support.”

About two years ago, Williams first received the call that the KC-46A Pegasus was coming to the “Gateway to the Pacific” – the nickname Travis earned due to its operational presence on the West Coast of the United States. So he developed a support plan that began with hiring a team of FSRs: husband and wife Jay and Mary Jensen, Rob Heap and William Church Jr. – all Air Force Veterans.

KC-46 Field Service Representative Rob Heap (left) talks with maintenance technicians from the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron before the first KC-46A delivery to Travis Air Force Base. Heap served in the same squadron before starting a career with Boeing. (Boeing photo)

“We’re all very familiar with the process, the sustainment and what it takes to keep this program going,” Jay Jensen said.

The Jensens helped stand up Pease Air National Guard Base to receive its first KC-46A in 2019. Heap and Church were both stationed at Travis during their service careers, with Heap making the move “from one side of the hall to the other” after retiring from the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron in early 2023.

“We’ve been trying to do a lot of preparations, trying to make sure (the airmen) have all the tools that they need,” Church continued, “introducing ourselves to the command, to all of the different squadrons to make sure they know we’re here, we’re embedded with the unit, and we’re here to help.”

KC-46 Field Service Representative William Church talks with a maintenance technician from the 660th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Travis Air Force Base. The squadron received the first KC-46A delivery to Travis on July 28, 2023. (Boeing photo)

The KC-46’s multi-role capabilities of delivering fuel, cargo and data for USAF missions worldwide should benefit Travis. “These fighter contingencies that go from Travis out to the Pacific, the KC-46 has the ability to know what the situational awareness is and give them the information they need along the way,” Jay Jensen said.

On the eve of the Pegasus’ arrival, the group of FSRs stood in a newly constructed KC-46 hangar as a rehearsal took place for the celebratory event planned for the following day. A new chapter was ready to unfold.

“I think from my vantage point, the excitement from most of the people is through the roof,” Heap said. “Tomorrow is a big day and I think they’re really looking forward to it.”

The arrival of a new era

Crews from the 60th and 349th Air Mobility Wings stationed at Travis successfully delivered the first KC-46A – dubbed “Golden 01” – from cloudy Seattle to sunny Northern California. The Pegasus had been tabbed to replace the KC-10 Extender, which first arrived at the base nearly 30 years ago.

The delivery represented the start of a new era of air mobility operations.

“I can tell you right now, as the commander of the 6th Air Refueling Squadron, (the delivery) means a ton to the airmen and the maintainers that operate the KC-10 and the KC-46,” said Lt. Col. Ted Fisher, who helped deliver the aircraft. “(The KC-46A) is going to be a fantastic aircraft for us long into the future.”

For the KC-46 FSRs, who watched the jet park outside the three-bay hangar that would serve as its new home, a new journey was also underway.

“It’s pretty exciting to actually be part of the stand-up crew for this base,” Church said. “The airmen are going to be excited. They’re interacting a lot. And the other thing is, (this airplane) is going to bring a lot more questions where they’re going to need help. We’re here, and we’re ready to do that.”

For Williams, what started as a phone call was now a reality. The world’s most advanced multi-mission aerial refueler was merely feet away from where he stood, smiling.

“It’s hard to explain how excited I am about this airplane right now,” he said.

Site manager Jerome Williams stands in front of the first KC-46A delivered to Travis Air Force Base. Between serving in the Air Force and working for Boeing, the veteran has spent more than 40 years working in aviation. (Boeing photo)

Just like his lifelong passion for aviation, Williams made it clear that the important work he and his team were doing wasn’t going to slow down any time soon.

“Just because it's new airplane, nothing stops. (The USAF) still (has) worldwide responsibilities, worldwide training, worldwide mission requirements,” Williams said. “The best thing my team can do is understand that and be ready on the call to answer, help, support, provide anything we can to make sure they can still do the missions and training requirements they're going to have. It’s not going to ever stop.”