Boeing now has six aircraft in its KC-46 Pegasus tanker test program, expanding its ability to complete ground and flight-test activities as it moves toward first deliveries to the US Air Force. Deliveries however have been delayed over various development issues.
The newest KC-46 aerial refueling aircraft, the second low-rate initial production plane, completed its first flight April 29. Its test activities will help ensure the KC-46 can safely operate through electromagnetic fields produced by radars, radio towers and other systems.
“Adding another tanker will help us to become even more efficient and significantly improve our ability to complete test points going forward,” said Jeanette Croppi, Boeing KC-46A tanker test team director. “We are also re-configuring one of our 767-2C aircraft into a tanker, which means we soon will have four KC-46 tankers in test.”
“This first flight is another important step for the KC-46 program toward verifying the aircraft’s operational capabilities,” said Col. John Newberry, Air Force KC-46 System program manager. “Adding this aircraft brings key capabilities to the test fleet and helps move us closer to delivering operational aircraft to the warfighter.”
Boeing expects to build 179 tankers in its Everett factory. To date, the program’s test aircraft have completed 1,600 flight hours and more than 1,200 contacts during refueling flights with F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, C-17, A-10 and KC-10 aircraft.
Various issues have plagued test flights though, causing delays and forcing Boeing to pay many millions of USD in penalties.
The US Air Force on Friday awarded Boeing a 2.1 billion USD contract for 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft, spare engines and wing air refueling pod kits. This order is the third low-rate initial production lot for Boeing. The first two came in August 2016 and combined 19 included airplanes, as well as spare parts.
Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based refueling aircraft for the air force to replace its KC-135 tanker fleet. Deliveries will begin later this year.
“This award is great news for the joint Boeing-Air Force team and reinforces the need for this highly efficient and capable tanker aircraft,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager. “Our Boeing industry team is hard at work building and testing KC-46 aircraft, and we look forward to first delivery.”
Boeing received an initial contract in 2011 to design and develop the Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft. As part of that contract, Boeing built four test aircraft – two configured as 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers. Those test aircraft, along with the first production plane, have completed nearly 1,500 flight hours to date.
The U.S. Air Force is moving its formal production decision on the KC-46 tanker program—known as Milestone C—from June 2016 to August 2016 to allow additional time to implement the solution to a refueling boom loads issue identified during flight testing earlier this year.
The Air Force also released an updated projection from Boeing for initial KC-46 deliveries and the expected timing for delivery of the first 18 certified tanker aircraft, a milestone known as Required Assets Available (RAA). Due to ongoing complexities associated with qualification and certification of the aircraft’s centerline drogue and wing-aerial refueling pod (WARP) systems, and the previously announced higher volume of change incorporation to bring the first 18 aircraft up to the certification configuration, the first tanker delivery will move from March 2017 to August 2017 with the 18th aircraft delivered in January 2018.
The underlying production system remains on track, and Boeing will have more than 18 aircraft through the factory line and in various stages of final change incorporation and certification by August 2017. The first 18 aircraft will be equipped with refueling boom and centerline drogue refueling capabilities as well as all other contract required capability except WARPs. The WARP systems required to complete full contractual RAA will be delivered separately in October 2018.
Boeing continues its effort with 5 aircraft now in test (including the first production aircraft), 7 aircraft in final production build, and 8 aircraft in the supply chain – up to tail number 20.
The US Air Force’s future tanker aircraft, the Boeing KC-46A Pegagus, suffers from too much stress – both literally and figuratively. While testing fuel transfer to a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III airlifter, the refuelling boom experienced a higher axial load then expected. This could lead to damage or worse.
Boeing sources have confirmed they are “looking into the issue and solve the problem”, but the physical stress on the aircraft’s premier tool comes shortly ahead of a possible decision for low-rate production (LRIP) of the tanker.
The Pentagon takes a decision in May on whether to give Boeing the green light to produce and deliver the first 18 KC-46As to the US Air Force by August 2017. The aircraft manufacturer thinks to have solved the stress-on-boom-issue this month to safeguard the LRIP and is confident that it will meet the delivery demands.
Problems are not new to the project, where technicians earlier had to fix basic fuel issues.
The KC-46 is also purchased by Japan, while Israel wants 6 to 8 of the new tanker aircraft.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Boeing KC-46’s initial wet contact F-16 (Image © Boeing)
The second fully configured Boeing KC-46A Pegasus flew for the first time this week from Paine Field, joining the other aircraft in the test program. The total number of flight hours in the program has now reached 440, according to Boeing. Two are now configured as Boeing 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers.
During the flight, Boeing test pilots performed operational checks on engines, flight controls and environmental systems. The flight orginated at Paine Field and ended at Boeing Field near Seattle. The second tanker will help share the test load and receiver certification. The KC-46A should be able to refuel 18 different aircraft with the help of both its boom plus droge and hose refueling systems.
EMD-1, a 767-2C test aircraft, has completed more than 260 flight test hours to date since its first flight in December 2014. EMD-2, the program’s first KC-46A tanker, made its maiden flight on 25 September 2015 and has now completed more than 180 flight test hours. EMD-3, a 767-2C, will begin flight testing later this year.
© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest