The first flight of the new US Air Force tanker aircraft, the Boeing KC-46A, is expected the coming weeks. Or actually we should say the first flight of the (K)C-46A, as the installation of the aerial refueling system still has to be done.
Four Boeing 767-2C freighters are currently being readied at the Boeing manufacturing plant in Everett, north of Seattle in the state of Washington. According to a new report from the US Director of Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) to US Congress on 29 January 2014 they are about to make their very short ferry flight south to Boeing Field. That is a distance of less than 30 miles (50 km).
At Boeing Field technicians will install the tanker parts in and onto the aircraft, followed by initial tests. The first flight of the fully equipped KC-46A is expected in Autumn 2015. But the US DOT&E has big doubts that will be the case. In his report to Congress the director writes that he is expecting delays of up to a year, despite the fact that Boeing recently said its KC-46 program is right on schedule.
The KC-46A has the flight deck equivalent of the commercial 767-400, but with larger displays like on the Dreamliner. The USAF is planning to authorise the first batch of 14 production aircraft somewhere in 2016. Total plans call for 161 KC-46s and the air force is hoping to field the first 18 aircraft by 2017. The four test aircraft will be part of that initial operational fleet that is desperately needed to replace the aging 168 KC-135 Stratotankers of the front line USAF tanker units.
The KC-46 development has a very large potential, as the US Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard will have to soldier on with their 67 respectively 180 KC-135s until new funds are available. The KC-46 is expected to be their replacement as well.
But budget restrains are causing trouble. Because the lack of money the US Air Force is already planning to scrap its 59 KC-10 Extender fleet, while their operational capabilities are very much needed with US operations going on all over the world.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger