KC-46 Refueling Tanker to Make First Flight This Month

(U.S. Air Force illustration)

The U.S. Air Force’s new KC-46A aerial refueling tanker made by Boeing Co. is scheduled to make its first flight on Sept. 25, a general said.

The date was announced Tuesday by Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson during the Air & Space Conference near Washington, D.C. The milestone for the eventual successor to the KC-135 and KC-10 was initially planned for the spring.

“Once that first flight occurs we’ll go into initial air worthiness,” he said. That means the second flight will begin testing the boom, hose and drogue systems, he said.

Richardson, the program executive officer for tankers with the Air Force Material Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said the subsequent flights will involve a variety of aircraft flying with the KC-46 and culminate with actual refueling flights in January.

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the recent cost overrun on the aircraft, known as the Pegasus and based on the 767 twin-engine commercial airliner, is “deeply unfortunate” and that he’s concerned about delays to the program.

McCain said he detailed the concerns in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. He and Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, sent a similar letter over issues with the Air Force’s new bomber program.

“While the recently announced cost overrun on the Air Force’s KC-46A tanker is deeply unfortunate, it is encouraging that the contractor, and not the taxpayer, will bear this expense,” McCain said.

“That said, the resulting delays to the program’s internal deadlines for completing key qualification and planned ground and flight testing activities are indicative of a program at risk of not meeting its planned delivery milestones,” he said.

Boeing plans to deliver the first 18 KC-46As to the Air Force by August 2017. The service estimates it will spend $49 billion to develop and build 149 of the planes to replace its aging fleet of KC-135s, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing forecasts an $80 billion global market for the new tankers, according to Trading Alpha.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is a reporter for Military.com. He can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.
  • Elvis Barrineaue

    Thank GOD for our military superior no other country comes close.

    • ols

      Eh…might wanna re-think that one chief. Some countries do have aircraft that are built like tanks and can do nasty things to some of those pieces of paper we call aircraft.

    • blight_adsfas

      Oh goody, “GOD” is going to give us another Kelly Johnson, reform the mindsets of the aerospace industry, and reform DoD procurement?

  • sw614

    About time. Hope all goes well.

    Couple of items in article are incorrect. The KC-46 was not purchased to be eventual successor to the KC-10. That acft has not been identified yet. The current KC-X contract is for 179 acft, not 149

  • Guest

    Well the Airbus Tanker/Transporter which the US picked years ago but for some strange reason Boeing complained about and won has just won another multi-billion contract with S.Korea so don’t brag about superiority cause the USA can’t say that anymore sorry, oh France and India are buy the Airbus as well and the KC-X has just made its first refuel .. :-/

  • franklin

    Boeing continues to make great strides in converting its civilian airliners into military applications, but designing clean sheet aircraft appears to be next to impossible. Even the 787 with all its new technologies is simply an advanced remake of older designs. For example, the most advanced firefighting aircraft in the world today is the jet propelled water bombing seaplane B-200 made by the Russians for 20 million dollars each. I have written to two California Governors and one President (over the last decade) about a need for either the B-200 or an American made version with the same capabilities, and I have yet to receive an answer. With tens of billions of dollars of homes, and property lost to wild fires (in the last decade) along with countless lives, you would think Boeing or another company would be marketing a newly designed water bomber that can scoop up a plane load of water in a few seconds, and transport it to the firefighting battle line at near Mach speed. Unfortunately the last large seaplane built in the USA was the Spruce Goose, and many politicians said it wouldn’t fly. Today Washington couldn’t care less about the problem that in just the last week has seen 600 homes go up in smoke with lives lost.

    • Sheep Dog

      Wow Franklin, guess you never heard of these ‘water bombers’… http://www.bombardier.com/en/aerospace/amphibious…

    • blight_adsfas

      Being a Californian myself I get concerned about the usual summer fires. However, we can’t all ask the feds to procure what our states want. California is still economically powerful enough to be in the top 20 of countries in terms of global economy. It may even have to procure this capability itself for CALfire, then lease it out for the other states that experience fire problems when California is temporarily fire-free.

      Either that, or the west-coast states that have fire problems must develop an alliance of firefighting capabilities…like NATO for fires. States already respond to each other’s fires, but in a more informal capacity.

  • retired462

    Save this article for October, just change the date.

  • bigfatduke

    They most always underbid a contract and sooner or later Boeing will come along with hat in hand wanting more money.

  • stephen russell

    cant AF use 747 as Long range tanker aside KC 46 type.
    & museumize some KC 135 types once decomm.

  • Silence DoGood

    The 46 won’t be able to do the job of the 135. Yes two different jets, I know. The Air Force should have done a better job of procurement. They could of saved money on less expensive jets. The jet will go the way of the KC 10. Duel role is a good thought on paper. The AF needed a dedicated tanker that’s it. Small but mighty. We have C 17s to do the heavy lifting. Will this tanker be able to do the secondary mission? We have to wait and see. It should be a good show.

    • Garrett

      If you look at the proposal and Boeing’s bid, the KC-46 is exactly a replacement for the KC-135 but the KC-46 has a higher useful load, more fuel, higher offload rate but in the ballpark of the KC-135. The KC-46 is better in every way over the KC-135 except for the guy flying the boom now on a 3-d TV screen.

      The air force actually uses the KC-135’s cargo capabilities as well. It is also cheaper to carry cargo in tanker than it is in an airlifter if you have the equipment to offload the cargo on the other end.

    • blight_adsfas

      KC-135 was the first tanker in the fleet, and thus came with some minor airlift capability. We’ve yet to design a full tanker.

  • Pablo

    First flight later this year??? So…the KC-46 that is parked outside my window, that goes flying almost every day doesn’t count? The first flight was back in Dec ’14.

    • blight_adsfas

      Perhaps first flight carrying fuel and refueling other aircraft?

    • Lightndattic

      That’s not a KC-46, that’s the 767-200C which is being used for airframe certification. This eliminates the need for the fully functional KC-46 to do that and go straight to refueling testing.

  • Dfens

    Time to cancel this program. Where’s McCain when you need him?

    • sw614

      Why? So we can waste more money and time starting over?

    • Atomic Walrus

      McCain supports this one because Boeing’s on the hook for any cost overruns.

      • Dfens

        Sure they are.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    That’s one saving grace - Boeing is eating the cost, at least officially and up front, of program problems. Are they getting something on the side through the black budget that will effectively cover their cost overruns? No way to know.

    • Dfens

      They don’t bother to hide that money. Why cover up what you’ve been getting away with for decades?