First US Air Force KC-46A tanker completes maiden flight
Boeing's first KC-46A tanker aircraft scheduled for delivery to the US Air Force has completed its maiden flight. At 10:32 am PST today, the two-engine aircraft based on the commercial 767 airframe took off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington, with two company test pilots at the controls for a test flight lasting three hours and 30 minutes.
The KC-46A Pegasus airframe is the seventh to be built and the first scheduled for delivery to the Air Force after is it completes its Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) flight tests sometime next year. After reaching 39,000 ft (12,000 m), the crew carried out a series of operational tests on the engines, flight controls, and environmental systems. It is currently undergoing post-flight ground inspections and instrument calibration.
Boeing says that the previous six aircraft have clocked 2,200 hours in the air and have made 1,600 refueling contacts with F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B, C-17, A-10, KC-10, and other KC-46 aircraft. The company is contracted to deliver 34 tankers – the first batch of 179 aircraft for the Air Force – at a cost of US$147.4 million dollars each. They will replace the aging fleet of 100 KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been in service for half a century. Meanwhile, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force has agreed to buy three tankers to be delivered in 2020.
The multi-role tanker KC-46 tanker was purchased by the US government after years of delay marked by a controversial procurement process, company protests, and resubmission of bids before Boeing won the final contract. The "NewGen Tanker" combines the 767-200 airframe with an advanced version of the KC-10 refueling boom compatible with all allied and coalition military aircraft, and cockpit displays from the 787 commercial aircraft. In addition, it can carry passengers, cargo, and medical patients.
"We're very proud of this aircraft and the state-of-the-art capabilities it will bring to the Air Force," says 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."