How safe is outsourcing of military commodities such as in-flight refueling? And how much worn out are the aircraft in use by civilian operators? Those questions are legit after an Omega Air Refueling Services Boeing KC-707 suffered an explosion of one of its four engines shortly after take-off. The incident occurred already on 10 April 2015, but came back into light this week after the US National Transportation Safety Board released details of the incident.
Fortunately, the KC-707 with a crew of five landed safely in Victorville Airport in California after taking off from Point Mugu Naval Air Station earlier. Only then ground personnel / investigators found damaged turbine blades, holes in the turbine exhaust as well as in the engine and some minor damage to the outboard aileron. From the NTSB report: “After departure a heavy vibration was felt in engine 1 as the airplane was climbing through 17,000 feet. The engine was shut down (while still in climb). The pilots reported that parts could be seen exiting the turbine section of the engine.”
The April 2015 incident is not the first with Omega. On 19 May 2011 a similar Omega KC-707 crashed at Point Mugu NAS. Back then a weakness in engine 2 made it fall off the plane, taking engine 1 with it and starting a fire. The NTSB concluded that the maintenance by Omega was perfect, but that the previous owner (reportedly Pan Am) had failed to follow redesign specifications, according to the federal crash investigators.
In Europe the Royal Air Force has outsourced all its in-flight refueling capability, but here it are brand-new Airbus A330 MRTT “Voyager” aircraft operated by AirTanker that do the job. So in the United Kingdom there will never be questions about how well former owners were to the machines.
Currently Omega Air Refueling Services has a fleet of two KC-707s (including the damaged one) and a McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker. But the engine problem was quickly overshadowed positively by the first air-to-air-refueling ever of a Northrop Grumman X-47B unmanned aerial vehicle on 22 April 2015. Executed by an Omega KC-707, the drone was provided gas while flying a pattern over the Atlantic Test Ranges of the Chesapeake Bay. It marked the first in-flight refueling ever of an unmanned aircraft.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: The Omega KC-707 starred in the first air-to-air refueling ever of a drone, on 22 April 2015 over Chesapeake Bay with gas provided to a US Navy Northrop Grumman X-47B experimental aircraft (Image © US Navy)