Boeing races KC-46A schedule

A miserably bland looking KC-46A Pegasus at Edwards Air Force Base, California on May 23, arriving at the Air Force Test Center for another phase of flight testing. Christopher Okula/US Air Force

The October delivery date planned for the first Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker – with a further 17 to follow by April 2018 – is fast approaching. However, major requirements, including the completion of the certification process and flighttesting of the fixes to the aircraft’s Category I defects, have still not been met, despite over 3,300 flight hours being logged in the flighttest programme. Boeing’s spending on contract overruns on the KC- 46A programme is now reported to have reached $3.4 billion over the $4.9 billion contract baseline. Boeing must pay that extra money itself.

While Boeing remains confident it will meet the delivery schedule, the Air Force is uncertain. Some Air Force leaders are anxious to start integrating the KC-46A into the force structure and have said they would be willing to accept the aircraft, even with key conditions of the procurement contract that have not been met, so long as Boeing agrees to pay for putting the aircraft in compliance after delivery. However, such a modification to material contract terms, even though requiring no additional government spending, would still require Congressional as well as Department of Defense approval.

On August 2, the US Federal Aviation Administration announced a temporary waiver would be issued for one of the technical problems that prevented the KC-46A from receiving its supplemental type certificate and military certificate that are required under the KC-46A procurement contract. This waiver enables Boeing to install a fix after the KC-46A is delivered. The KC-46A’s central fuel tank has only a single pressure indicator. If this fails while the KC-46A is being refuelled in flight, an overpressure condition could result. The Air Force has agreed to operate the KC-46A with an extra crewmember to monitor tank pressure during refuelling until the problem is corrected.

Despite the focus on getting the KC-46A into service, the Air Force has started to look at what upgrades will be required when it does arrive. On August 7, the Air Force announced that Boeing had been awarded a $10 million Block 1 risk-reduction contract, to be completed by 2019, to identify upgrades and set out a five-year roadmap for post-delivery work on the KC-46A. David C Isby