Boeing KC-46's initial wet contact F-16 (Image © Boeing)

First wet contact for Boeing KC-46

Success for the US Air Force’s future Boeing KC-46A tanker aircraft on Sunday 24 January; the first actual air-to-air refueling became a fact in the skies over Washington state. Following take off from Boeing Field in Seattle, the KC-46A worked through a series of tests before transfering 1,600 pounds of fuel to a US Air Force F-16 flying at 20,000 feet.

During the 5 hour and 43-minute flight, both Boeing and air force air refueling operators accomplished multiple contacts with the Edwards-based F-16. “The refueling boom’s handling qualities throughout the flight were exceptional,” said Rickey Kahler, Boeing KC-46 air refueling operator who also guided the boom during contacts with the F-16 while sitting in the tanker’s state-of-the-art refueling operator station in the front of the tanker. “The boom was extremely stable – it handled like it was an extension of my arm.”

The KC-46A that accomplished Sunday’s refueling will soon begin refueling a number of other military aircraft as well, including a C-17, F/A-18, A-10 and AV-8B. Also known as EMD-2, the tanker made its first flight on 25 September 2015 and has now completed 32 flights. The program’s first test aircraft (EMD-1), a 767-2C, has completed more than 260 flight test hours to date since its first flight in December 2014. EMD-3 and EMD-4 will begin flight testing later this year.

The US Air Force is to receive 180 KC-46 over the next decade or so as a replacement for old KC-135 tanker aircraft. The KC-46 is named Pegasus in US service. Japan also ordered three KC-46s for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

© 2016 editor Elmer van Hest