Boeing Targets Third-quarter Start of KC-46A Flight Testing

 - June 29, 2014, 5:14 PM
The first aircraft to undergo final assembly under the KC-46A tanker program, a 767-2C provisioned freighter, nears completion in Everett, Wash. (Photo: Bill Carey)

Boeing is targeting the third quarter for the maiden flight of a 767-2C “provisioned freighter” that will become one of the first U.S. Air Force KC-46A aerial refueling tankers. The company acknowledged encountering what it described as typical issues in the tanker’s development, and that it slipped an internal goal to fly the aircraft for the first time in June.

Speaking with aviation reporters in Everett, Wash., Chuck Johnson, Boeing vice president for Air Force mobility, recalled Boeing’s experience with the 787 Dreamliner flight-test program, which was rescheduled multiple times before the commercial jet made its maiden flight in December 2009. “I would say [the 767-2C] will fly when she’s ready to fly—a lesson learned from the 787, where we kept trying to put a date out there [with] lots of pressure,” he said. “Our target date is the third quarter.”

While issues have come up in the KC-46A development, Boeing remains on track to deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by 2017 as the Air Force requires, Johnson said. “Is there a major thing that’s happened and we’re all trying to figure out what to do—no,” he related. “Are there many things that have come up as we’ve gone through lab testing as well as actually manufacturing the jet? Yes, there’s those kinds of things. But there are fixes; those are just typical things.”

At the Everett plant, Boeing was assembling the initial four tankers the Air Force ordered in February 2011 under the $4.4 billion KC-46A engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) program. The first EMD aircraft to reach final assembly was a baseline 767-2C provisioned freighter the manufacturer will use to earn an amended type certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration before installing the aerial refueling components and military avionics planned for the tanker. Boeing executives said the -2C variant has a 767-200 fuselage and -300 wing. The EMD1 aircraft was fitted with a modified KC-10 aerial refueling boom for ground vibration testing. Normally, refueling booms will be installed at a finishing center at Boeing Field after the tankers roll out of Everett.  

The second EMD aircraft to join the flight-test program will be a full KC-46A, for which Boeing will seek an FAA supplemental type certificate as well as military certification. Two of the four EMD aircraft will start flight-testing as 767-2Cs; eventually they will be converted to KC-46As.

Beyond the Air Force’s total requirement for 179 tankers through 2027, Boeing is seeking international customers for the KC-46A. The government of South Korea was accepting bids through June to supply four aerial refueling tankers for its air force, a competition pitting the KC-46A against the Airbus A330 Multirole Tanker Transport (MRTT) and Israel Aerospace Industries, offering the converted Boeing 767-300ER Multi Mission Tanker Transport, The Korea Times reported. Boeing expects Korea, a first-time tanker buyer, will make a selection in the fourth quarter. Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force operates four KC-767 tankers and has a requirement for three more tankers in its mid-term defense plan through 2018. Boeing expects that selection in the fourth quarter of next year.

The manufacturer also awaits a requirement for three to eight tankers from a European consortium of the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Belgium. Poland may seek its own national tanker solution independent of the grouping.