First KC-46 aerial tanker slated for USAF delivery conducts maiden flight

First Boeing KC-46 aerial refueling tanker slated for delivery to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) has conducted its maiden flight, taking off from Paine Field at 10:32 a.m. PST on Dec. 5 and landing approximately three-and-one-half hours later, the company announced.

“Today’s flight is another milestone for the Air Force/Boeing team and helps move us closer to delivering operational aircraft to the warfighter,” said Col. John Newberry, U.S. Air Force KC-46 System program manager.

During the flight, Boeing test pilots took the tanker to a maximum altitude of 39,000 feet and performed operational checks on engines, flight controls and environmental systems as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-approved flight profile. Prior to subsequent flights, the team will conduct a post-flight inspection and calibrate instrumentation.

“We’re very proud of this aircraft and the state-of-the-art capabilities it will bring to the Air Force,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager. “We still have some tough work ahead of us, including completing our FAA certification activities, but the team is committed to ensure that upon delivery, this tanker will be everything our customer expects and more.”

The newest tanker is the KC-46 program’s seventh aircraft to fly to date. The previous six are being used for testing and certification and to date have completed 2,200 flight hours and more than 1,600 “contacts” during refueling flights with F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, C-17, A-10, KC-10 and KC-46 aircraft.

The program is currently running behind the schedule. Boeing has already had to pay $2.9 billion pretax , or about $1.9 billion after tax, because of the numerous cost overruns and delays associated with the program.

Boeing will also miss its self-imposed goal to deliver the first KC-46 tanker to the Air Force by the end of the year, as per the reports on Defense News citing Leanne Caret, President and CEO of Boeing Defense and Security.

Boeing is contractually required to deliver 18 certified KC-46s and nine refueling pods by October 2018 or face additional penalties, but is not bound by the terms of its fixed-price contract with the Air Force to hand over the first aircraft by a certain date.

Once in service, the KC-46 will refuel U.S., allied and coalition military aircraft using both its boom and hose and drogue systems. The boom allows the tanker to transfer up to 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute, while the plane’s hose and drogue systems, located on both the plane’s wing and centerline, enables the KC-46 to refuel smaller aircraft with up to 400 gallons of fuel per minute.

It can also carry passengers, cargo and patients.

The KC-46, derived from Boeing’s commercial 767 airframe, is built in the company’s Everett facility. Boeing is currently on contract for the first 34 of an expected 179 tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Boeing KC-46A Pegasus

Boeing KC-46A Pegasus is a military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft developed by Boeing and is based on its 767 jet airliner.

The KC-46A  is designed to refuel all allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refueling procedures and can carry passengers, cargo and patients.

In February 2011, the tanker was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) as the winner in the KC-X tanker competition to replace older KC-135 Stratotankers.  The first 18 combat-ready aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in early 2018 under the terms of the development contract.

On 23 October 2015, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force selected the KC-46 as their new tanker, with a contract for three tankers expected in 2016.

Boeing is assembling KC-46A aircraft at its Everett, Washington facility.

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