KC-46 Fix Agreed but Production Goes on Hold

 - April 6, 2020, 6:22 AM
A receiver's eye view of the KC-46A Pegasus. The remotely operated refueling boom relies on a camera system that provides a wingtip-to-wingtip day/night view of the refueling process. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

On April 2, the U.S. Air Force and Boeing reached agreement on two key aspects currently affecting the KC-46A Pegasus tanker program. The first agrees on a revised design for the troublesome remote vision system (RVS), while the second provides assistance to the manufacturer in mitigating the effects of Covid-19. According to a press release from the Secretary of the Air Force’s office, the two Memoranda of Agreement will be incorporated into the main KC-46A contract.

Under the first MOA, the Air Force will lead design reviews and specification approvals for a revised vision system known as RVS 2.0, which addresses a range of problems such as impaired vision at certain sun angles, the inability to detect if the boom is scraping the receiver aircraft’s skin, and the inability to register additional axial loads placed on the boom by the KC-46 pilots.

RVS 2.0 will have 4K color TV cameras with what is described as “proper viewing geometry,” and larger display screens will be installed at the air refueling operator (ARO) station. The system also has a laser ranger to measure the distance between the refueling boom and the receiver aircraft and will have an augmented-reality function to aid the boom operator.

In early March, Air Force chief of staff General David Goldfein said the service would only use the KC-46A operationally in time of emergency. At the same time, he hoped that a fix would be agreed upon by the end of the month. Initial fielding of RVS 2.0 is expected in 2023, and the redesign and retrofit will be conducted at no cost to the U.S. government.

In a statement issued by the company, Boeing’s president and CEO of Defense, Space, and Security, Leanne Caret, noted: “The agreement we announced today takes advantage of new remote vision system technologies that are orders of magnitude better than what was available when the program started. The investments we continue to make in the KC-46 clearly demonstrate Boeing’s commitment to Pegasus being the standard by which all future refueling aircraft are measured.”

In the second MOA, the Departments of Defense and the Air Force are releasing $882 million in payments to Boeing that had been withheld due to non-compliance by the OEM on 33 KC-46A deliveries. The money is being released in line with current departmental policies to maximize the cash flow of key suppliers, where prudent, to offset the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak on the defense industrial base. Under the MOA, the departments and Boeing will conduct an expedited process to determine compliance with the final specification.

In the meantime, production of the KC-46 is on hold as a result of Boeing’s decision to suspend production operations in the Puget Sound area. Based on the 767-2C airframe, the KC-46A is built at Everett, Washington. The shutdown began on March 25, following the death of an employee at Everett, and was initially scheduled to last for 14 days. On April 5 the company announced an extension to the halt “until further notice.” As an essential business, Boeing had been exempt from the State of Washington’s “stay at home” order but the number of Covid-19 cases in the workforce has grown considerably.

Boeing’s temporary production halt also affects the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, which is based on the 737-800 airframe made at Renton. The company received a $1.5 billion order for the next 18 P-8As on March 30, soon after a long-lead item order had been awarded. The batch includes those for South Korea and New Zealand.

* Update: Boeing announced on April 13 that it was preparing to restart production work on the P-8 and KC-46 programs