First Flight For Japanese KC-46A Pegasus

 - February 9, 2021, 1:40 PM
Japan’s first KC-46A was seen emerging from the Everett paintshop in full JASDF colors last September. Now it has begun its pre-delivery testing. (Photo: Boeing)

Boeing has flown the first KC-46A tanker for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Wearing a temporary U.S. civilian registration (N6018N) in place of its JASDF serial number (14-3611), the aircraft undertook its maiden flight from Paine Field in Everett, Washington on February 8. The aircraft is due for delivery later this year.

“Boeing’s KC-46 and its robust defensive systems will play an invaluable role in the security alliance between our two countries,” noted the president of Boeing Japan, Will Shaffer. “This tanker’s ability to carry cargo and passengers also makes it a critical tool to support humanitarian relief efforts across the Pacific region and beyond.” Japan’s aerospace industry contributes 16 percent of the 767’s airframe structure.

Japan signaled its intention to buy the KC-46A in October 2015. It became the first overseas customer for the Pegasus in December 2017, when it ordered one aircraft as part of a $279 million Foreign Military Sales deal. A second tanker was added a year later, and another pair was contracted in October 2020 to fulfill the JASDF’s initial requirement for four, with at least another two being considered. They are likely to join 404 Hikotai at Nagoya, which already operates four earlier-generation KC-767J tankers. The JASDF also operates four more 767s outfitted for airborne early warning as E-767s.

Boeing is hopeful of securing more export orders for the KC-46A with Israel emerging as a major opportunity, having received State Department approval in March 2020. On February 7 a government committee approved a large-scale military aircraft purchasing program, with the replacement of the air force’s elderly Boeing KC-707 Re’em tankers a high priority. The wider deal could see Israel acquiring more F-35I Adir fighters, and possibly the F-15EX.

In the meantime, Boeing is currently on contract with the U.S. Air Force for 94 KC-46As, having been awarded two more contracts in January. The first order covered 12 aircraft and was followed by another for 15 on the last day of the Trump administration. The first Pegasus was delivered in January 2019, and by January this year, 42 were in Air Force service.

On February 5 the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron of the New Hampshire Air National Guard received its 12th and final KC-146A to become the first unit to receive its full allocation. The 133rd had welcomed its initial Pegasus to Pease ANGB in August 2019.

KC-46 Air National Guard
The 133rd Air Refueling Squadron’s 12th KC-46A arrives at Pease Air National Guard Base on February 5 to complete the unit’s inventory. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)