First KC-46A Baseline Test Aircraft Due This Month

First KC-46A Baseline Test Aircraft Due This Month

The first of four Air Force KC-46A baseline test aircraft will complete major assembly later this month before taking off on its first scheduled test-flight later this summer, Air Force and Boeing officials said.

Although only a developmental flight of a test aircraft, the upcoming flight marks a significant milestone in a long Air Force effort to build a new aerial tanker for its fleet.

The upcoming test flight of the 767 2C developmental aircraft, called a provision freighter, will begin an extensive testing, evaluation and certification process in the Air Force’s multi-year effort to replace its aging KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleets, Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Program Executive Officer for Tankers, told Military​.com in an interview.

“The first aircraft will go directly into the flight test program where it will start working on FAA certification test points – proving that the aircraft can fly at the altitudes it is committed to flying at, proving that it can take off and land at the distances it has committed to, and ensuring that it can go from one altitude to another altitude,” Thompson said.

The Air Force’s multi-year tanker procurement program is one of the service’s top two priorities. The average KC-135 is about 50 years old and the average KC-10 tanker is roughly 29 years old, Thompson said.

The 165-foot KC-46A is being built with Pratt and Whitney engines and the ability to transport up to 212,000 pounds of fuel and 65,000 pounds of cargo. The aircraft will bring an improved ability to conduct aerial refueling missions, Thompson said.

The KC-46A will refuel F-22s, F-15s, F-16s, F-35s, C-17 and KC 10s, among others.

For instance, the new tanker will have and improved ability to refuel aircraft via the probe and drogue while also using a boom and receptacle on a single mission. The aircraft can conduct multiple refueling missions concurrently using a drogue, or refueling mechanism on the wings, and a more standard boom and receptacle system.

Thompson explained that the 767s are being engineered and manufactured with some military specifications in mind so as to prevent the need to strip down the aircraft and fully re-configure it for military use, as has often been the case with prior Air Force aircraft acquisition efforts.

“We are provisioning by drilling the holes that we need and installing the structures that we need for KC 46 – so that when we get to the finishing center, it will not require to be torn apart. It will instead just go through an installation procedure,” he explained.

Boeing officials also say production and assembly of the first aircraft is progressing successfully.


“We are going to complete major assembly this month. Once we complete the airframe we still have to do ground vibration testing, add the body fuel tanks and other instrumentation testing,” Jerry Drelling, a spokesman for the KC-46 tanker program.

The testing of the first developmental aircraft will also measure the aircraft’s rate to climb and rate to descend, Thompson added.

The Engineering Manufacturing and Design, or EMD, model aircraft, being built at a Boeing facility in Everett, Wash., will ultimately go to a special Boeing location about 30 miles south of Everett where they will be configured with the requisite instrumentation, electronics and technologies necessary for the aircraft to become military-ready KC-46A tankers, Thompson said.

The first flight of a fully-integrated, military ready KC-46A aircraft is slated for January of 2015, Thompson said.

The second developmental aircraft, or EMD 2, is slated to roll out of the Everett factory later this year before heading to the special Boeing field location for additional integration.

Overall, the Air Force plans to acquire 179 KC-46A tankers between 2015 and 2028, Thompson explained. Current plans call for low rate initial production of seven aircraft in 2015, 12 aircraft in 2016 and then 15 per year between 2017 and 2027, he added.

Part of the tanker acquisition effort includes a contract specification for the Air Force to acquire 18 KC-46As by 2017.

“We’ve had a strong focus executing on this program. We remain on plan to deliver 18 combat-ready KC-46A tankers by 2017,” Drelling said.

The government estimates the developmental costs of the tanker effort at $5.7 billion, however a new estimate is currently being worked on and will be available later this year, Thompson said.

Thompson said the test program involves an ambitious effort to concurrently perform developmental testing, operational testing and FAA certification.

“We’re optimizing the flight test program so that each flight test will maximize the amount of data collected to satisfy multiple different test agencies. This is a cost and schedule savings for the program,” he explained.

Once combat ready, the KC-46 will carry about 10-percent more gas than the KC-135 and be engineered with aircraft infrared countermeasures for crew protection. The aircraft will also be configured with some electronic warfare capability, Thompson said.

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The bottom line is 50% less fuel delivered on a typical pacific mission.

No wonder Boeing officials are feted in Bejing. My Chinese friends laughingly call the US defense contractors the 5th arm of the PLA.

My only problem was the C-46 was an iconic WWII cargo airplane and this is called KC-46 well you see my point!

One other piece of criteria used to choose the KC-46, was that unlike the Airbus option, it didn’t require a rebuilding or replacement of all the hangers used to store/maintain the aircraft.

Part of the reason the price for the KC-46 being favorable, is due to Boeing having a desire to keep the 767 production line option, long after it had recovered the costs.

The easy problem to foresee in this case, is that when the production line is shut down, it’ll be harder/more expensive to get parts earlier than it might otherwise. Contrast this to the Navy’s P8 Poseidon, which is based on the 737 — these are still in production and will be for years to come long after the P-8 is delivered.

Does that mean the Pentagon wasn’t suckered into paying TWICE for those same nonrecurring costs (like they usually do)? Can we confirm that?

I see the airbus fanbois aren’t over the loss yet.

It’ll be like KC-135. Old parts never die, they just cost more when they go into boutique production.

“50% less fuel on a typical Pacific mission”

50% less fuel compared to what? And can you back that up with a source?

The fuel capacity is slightly greater than that of the KC-135 it is replacing. The Airbus option was quite larger and closer in size to the KC-10. Hence it couldn’t use a lot of the support facilities set up for the KC-135s.

Personally I wish Boeing would have incorporated some 787 components into their proposal but that would have probably been deemed too risky by many.

I don’t know that took them so long to come up with proposals for this KC/767 variant: the Japanese had already bought the 767 for refueling of their air force. There was, of course, a nasty battle to get the contract.

Regardless — most of the work should’ve already been done.

Just try being the boomer, refueling at night, near lightning, with a stereo-scopic camera system and no direct vision… no direct eyeball to receiver aircraft line of sight. Hell, it was hard enough to refuel an F-111 at night on a good day before he hit the burners to keep up. An F-22 or F-35 (if ever deployed) will be as hard. I predict real operational problems making refuelings at night and in weather. Sad.. they never listed to the Boomers when this POS

Why would a KC-46 refuel a KC-10? Seems a tad redundant…

The flight deck will be a 787 flight deck…

One reason a tanker would refuel another tanker is to keep unused fuel out in the area of operation. For instance, in Afghanistan, multiple tankers are on station pretty much 24/7 to support fighter aircraft that may or may not need the fuel. There is a schedule that dictates how long a tanker is supposed to be out over Afghanistan and a list of receivers they are supposed to receive fuel. Since the enemy doesn’t always stick to the schedule, the scheduled fighter aircraft might not need their scheduled refueling. Hence, additional unused fuel that can be consolidated into the tanker that arrives as scheduled to replace the tanker that is scheduled to go back to base.

The two KC-46s needed to execute the mission will always take up more space than one Airbus.

Born into the administration of Bushco Inc, this bird is taking overlong to get out of the nest. It’s not as if it’s a new aircraft — it’s a 767 with additioinal fuel storage, and transfer equipment (which iitself has been around almost 50 years). Even hardened for EMP and with a defense system it should have been operational long before now. More time, more cost.

In Afghanistan the enemy doesn’t have air resources and other than nailing somebbody’s wedding reception there have been few instances of aircraft being needed to stop a Taliban offensive — except that time at the end of ‘Sole Survivvor.’ — remember?

Light ‘em up. It’s not as if there are enemy aircraft to worrry about.

You’d think the process could have been computerized by now.

Scrap the last idea, get the sucker airborne first.

Sssssh! No third guessing now.

Since it lost in every scenario except parked being repaired on the tarmac, I expect they are optimizing for that.

I didn’t realize Airbus developed the technology to have one aircraft be in two places at the same time.

Former KC-10 Boom Operator, looking forward to the KC-46A. Excited about the next generation Tanker. I hope Boeing seeks out Boom Operator input. (Great job “Paid To Pass Gas). CONTACT! Miracle on the Hudson 5th Anniversary today . Thank You Crew . Peace

Having worked on both the KC-10 and the C-17, just before I retired, I think it would have been
smarter to adapt the C-17 to aerial refueling (as they did with the DC-10) or keep right on building more KC10’s. Proven aircraft, already to be built, adaption not that difficult. Why do they keep reinventing the wheel?

But unlike the Airbus, the planes are made in the USA by a US based company
I have no idea why the Pentagon thought it was a good idea to invite Airbus to submit a bid anyway, but when they did submit one, it was for an oversized plane which would require building new hangars at nearly every field used by the tankers. Thankfully, someone, somewhere came to their senses and the new tanker, like the old ones which have served well for more than 50 years will be built by BOEING!

To save some money why not take the many retired civilian 767s out of desert storage and Boeing convert them to tanker/freighter configuration for the USAF?

Guess again, most of the parts are being made in Mexico, Korea, China. The majority of the parts are in Korea

You are correct. Having worked on both aircraft, the public thinks it is getting something new when in fact the767 is 35 year old technology

I was a in flight mechanic on K,C135.

Also a former KC-10A & KC-135 A-Q & R (Models) Boomer — im very interested to see how this new tanker will operate, as i hear no (boom pod) rather a (boom) station in or near the cockpit ?? Using some kind of camera system ? Let alone the Loadmaster duties. No one kicks AZZ w/ out TANKER Gas!! Tsgt Kevin Holmgren (RET) 74 to 96– COMBAT Gulf War. GO AF !!

Maybe the airframes could not stand up along with the wings with the winglets

The afterburners are very bright at night an ruin the boomer’s night vision, that’s what he was saying.

I remember the KC 135’s at Loring AFB Maine(67–71) with water injection system( Pratt & Whitney J-57-P-59W turbojet engines)would rattle our windows in the barracks.

I hope someone is condidering it to be versitile as well. We will need a platform to conduct Aeromedical Evacuation as well, like the KC-135 does now. PACAF will need it as well as other theaters.

slightly larger? Well, you’re comparing apples to oranges to banana’s (3 differetn airframes). The article says the KC45 carries 212,000 lof (lbs of fuel). The KC135, per online sources (google it — do not confuse what it takes off with with what it can transfer), carries 136,000 — I don’t consider that “slightly” larger, as it is about 2/3ds more fuel. The KC10, “with AARB and additional fuel tanks located in the baggage compartments below the main deck.” (doesn’t sound like a daily use setup) can carry a whopping 356,000 lof — but the article didn’t specify how much is offloadable.

This procurement has become a nightmare for the USAF. First Druyun and her mis-use of office back in 2000 timeframe got that purchase shot down (no pun intended), then the “we want an airframe, any ole’ airframe, you submit and we’ll pick the best size from the submissions” headache of Northrup/EADS vs Boeing… then when one was picked Congress had a cow and said “what, you went non-American!” and shot it down… of course, had they not competed the bids the legal system would’ve gotten involved because they have to compete it… and now we have this, of which N/EADS said “the waters are polluted, we won’t win, so why bid?”

It’s new, it’s needed. May not be the best thing we can get, but with money being what it is, compromises (in size/capability) are acceptable.

This procurement has become a nightmare for the USAF. First Druyun and her mis-use of office back in 2000 timeframe got that purchase shot down (no pun intended), then the “we want an airframe, any ole’ airframe, you submit and we’ll pick the best size from the submissions” headache of Northrup/EADS vs Boeing… then when one was picked Congress had a cow and said “what, you went non-American!” and shot it down… of course, had they not competed the bids the legal system would’ve gotten involved because they have to compete it… and now we have this, of which N/EADS said “the waters are polluted, we won’t win, so why bid?”

It’s new, it’s needed. May not be the best thing we can get, but with money being what it is, compromises (in size/capability) are acceptable.

how much money are you saving taking a worn airframe that has been sitting in the desert environment — sure, dry, but hot as hell — been there too many times! — tearing it down to inspect from the inside out, then building it, to fly a geriatric frame with new stuff in it… rely on it… and for how long???

You understand we are replacing existing airframes due to overuse (20+ yrs of Air war — since 1991 now), age, wear… and you want to??

I was wondering the same thing; and what tanker will be refueling the remaining B-52s. I flew as a passenger on KC-135 a few times going between CSAFB, OK and Okinawa. These –135s were also loaded with cargo so our rides were less than glorious.

Take a look at the boom, on KC-46? Looks like a MACDAC boom, to me.

Hey, louis Malabe, I was a crew chief on the KC-135 for lots of years. Never flew with a flight mechanic during my SAC days. We were Master Crew Chiefs and Master Technisions. When were you in and where did you serve? Back to the KC-46A, Contractor never ask for crew input. They could build a crew friendly aircraft if they did.

These assholes wouldnt listen to their mothers much less a boomer, The American engineers are some of the most ignorant people on earth, a EGO so high that it cant be reached, they know more than GOD himself. I had an idea that would have cost the auto industry maybe .10 and would have added safety that none have today, this was at least 20 years ago. I proposed that they simply install a Diode and a small jumber to connect the wiper relay to the Headlight relay where the pights would come on without the wipers but the wipers couldnt be turned on without the lights coming on. Hey people, the law in every State simply states, your headlights must be on if your wipers are.….. PLAIN AND SIMPLE, 10 cents and they said it wouldnt be economically feasable, I bet not one of them knew what a freekin diode was.

I was a crew chief on the KC 135 a nd then on the KC 135Q during the 60’s. Never knew of a flight mech. On them. I did do a lot of flying during cross country trips tho.

I never saw a Flight Mechanic on the KC-135’s. I flew on the KC, RC, NKC, RC and the WC throught my career and still never saw one. Where were you stationed. and what year. This is something new to me. I flew back in the late 70’s through 1991. I still work with the KC occasionally.

The main reason to refuel tanker to tanker is to extend the range of the tanker receiving the fuel. This is necessary sometimes because a tanker may be limited on its takeoff weight due to performance reasons (i.e. it is too hot, or high pressure altitude). In this case the tanker would takeoff at it maximum gross weight for the field conditions and then once airborn, it could hook up with another tanker and onload fuel up to its maximum capcity or structual weight limit. Tanker to Tanker refueling is also used to extend the range of a tanker which has a long distance refuling mission such as bringing fighters across an ocean. In this case the tankers would take off from their base, fly to the refueling track, rendevous with scheduled receivers and off load some of its gas to them. At this point, the second tanker would then fill the first tanker back up with enough fuel that it can cross the ocean and complete all the scheduled refueling for the aircraft it is escorting as well as for itself. A task that neither of the two tankers could do alone.

Call me a “homer”, but no matter what the 767 offers or whatever cute gadgets Boeing has added to her, the KC-10 will always reign as the supreme tanker. 6–8 aircrew, 75 pax, cargo bay full and enough gas to drag fighters along for the ride. She is a dual role beauty and one helluva ride. Welcome KC-46.…you have some large shoes to fill. Long live the Extender. J Williams, KC-10 CrewChief 99–07, KC-10 Depot 2011–2012

Our military procurement program is a tragic comedy. Is this the best we can do with an existing airframe?

Its a brand new airplane people not “just a 767 with tanks”. It has normal teething pains but will surprise the harsh pundits here. And it does SO MUCH MORE than our 1950’s fleet. Its a beautiful bird just wait folks to be blown away.

The KC-10 is a great asset. I don’t believe the KC-46 is intended to replace any, when it comes time to replace the KC-10 we’ll want something the size of the DC-10 it was based off of or larger. There Oblat’s beloved Airbus will have a very good chance at the competition.

Yeah good luck crossing the Pacific. The KC-10 can hold 340,000lbs of gas… and offload it all if needed. Also, it can hold 20+ pallets, making it very useful in fighter moves and moving their stuff. What a shame they are not promoting the –10. Politics will continue to ruin the military.

The KC-135 can carry 200k lbs of fuel, the KC-46 212k and the KC-10 340k (limited not by tank size but MTOGW). Regarding the KC-10, the term “additional tanks” is misleading. It has six permanent tanks in the wings and under the floor — none of the tanks are modular. This is the configuration that every KC-10 flies in every day. And finally, all of the fuel in a KC-10 can be either burnt or offloaded.


Any idea where the initial cadre of 18 are slated for home-basing?

How about KC-167 (B-767)

“Paid to Pass Gas”, that’s funny!!

Good opinions guys. Has anyone ever considered the B-777 (KC-177)?
Just as large as the DC-10 (KC-10), maybe just as much carrying capacity for fuel and cargo as the KC-10.
Maybe same or better performance and better fuel cost?

Gucci boys

The KC-10 Extenders should receive a C-5M like upgrade (AMP/RMRP) to extend their service for another 20 years. The KC-46A will emulate the KC-10 capability, but it will never replace it. KC-Y may.

They had to put some people in jail first, maybe they just bought the plane anyway and then rewrote the contract without the bribes and kickbacks

20 years of full on civilian use means they are pretty tired, for the USAF 20 years is just like 5.

The Airbus KC45 missed out because it was a bit too big, but this is a small buy and later planes to replace KC10s could be 777s


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