Fairchild Airmen selected for KC-46 aircrew

Senior Airman Josh Ortega, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an Air Force E-4B over the Pacific coast, April 10, 2014. This refueling mission was held to provide support to Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, during his return to the U.S. from a visit to China. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary O'Dell/Released)

Senior Airman Josh Ortega, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels an Air Force E-4B over the Pacific coast, April 10, 2014. This refueling mission was held to provide support to Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, during his return to the U.S. from a visit to China. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary O'Dell/Released)

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Three Airmen from Team Fairchild were selected as primary and alternate candidates for the KC-46 Pegasus initial operation test and evaluation aircrew.

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Joyce, 92nd Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of aircrew training, and Senior Airman Joshua Ortega, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, were selected as primary candidates along with 41 officers and enlisted members from around the Air Force, the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard. Staff Sgt. John Mellon, 93rd ARS boom operator, was selected as an active-duty alternate.

Ortega was the only active-duty senior airman selected to be a part of this team.

"For me it was unreal that out of all the senior airmen boom operators, I was selected for this program," Ortega said. "It's a huge honor."

Ortega also said that being selected along with one of his mentors, Joyce, made him that much more excited for this opportunity.

Joyce has been a part of Ortega's career since he was in technical training. He was one of his instructors at their technical school in Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, and was also his supervisor here in the 92nd ARS.

"[Ortega] has that motivation, that willingness to learn as much as he can and he takes his experiences and builds on them," Joyce said. "That's important in our career field."

As one of 11 active-duty boom operators selected, Joyce said he is honored to be a special part of history.

"We haven't had a new tanker in over 30 years, so it's going to be awesome to push the air refueling mission forward, and the Air Force forward," he said.

He also said he isn't surprised that three Fairchild Airmen were chosen as primary and alternate candidates.

"The training program is very robust here," he said. "There are a lot of exceptionally qualified aircrew members; this is definitely one of the better trained units that I've been a part of."

Lt. Col. Jeromie Sheldon, 92nd Air Refueling Squadron commander, said he is honored to have two of his Airmen chosen for this elite position.

"Being selected to be part of a very choice group of initial cadre is a testament to their capabilities," Sheldon explained. "We are very proud of them and know the Air Force will benefit from these Airmen as they grow future generation of boom operators."

The KC-46 Pegasus is slated to enter the Air Force inventory, pending the results of operational test and evaluation, in 2016. Developed by Boeing in Mukilteo, Washington, the aircraft will replace the KC-135 Stratotanker, which has been actively employed since 1956.

"Test and evaluation aircrew will evaluate the tanker's capabilities under all circumstances and situations to ensure that it meets all operational mission requirements," said Maj. Broc Starrett, Air Force Personnel Center Mobility Air Forces rated assignments.

"This is a significant milestone in the careers of the pilots and boom operators selected to test the new tanker," Starrett said. "Airmen selected for test and evaluation positions must be the best in their field, so selection for the program is very competitive. These Total Force Airmen will have significant impact on the future of the Air Force mobility mission."

(Debbie Gildea, Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs, contributed to this story)