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US Air Force accepts first KC-46A tanker aircraft

11 January 2019
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A KC-46A pictured during earlier flight trials. The USAF has now accepted the first of 179 tankers being procured under the KC-X programme. Source: Boeing

The US Air Force (USAF) accepted the first KC-46A Pegasus aerial refuelling tanker from Boeing on 10 January, a major milestone in the programme’s beleaguered history.

The service is scheduled to take physical delivery of the first KC-46A at McConnell Air Force Base (AFB), Kansas, as early as late January, according to USAF spokesperson Captain Hope Cronin. Following delivery of the first aircraft, Capt Cronin said the service will deliver four additional KC-46As to McConnell AFB, with the first aircraft of this batch being used for initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E), which is scheduled to begin between March and May. Boeing said on 10 January that this batch of aircraft for McConnell AFB is ready for delivery.

Boeing is then expected to deliver an additional four aircraft as early as next month to Altus AFB, Oklahoma, for aircrew maintenance and training. The service expects delivery rates in 2019 to continue at an average of three per month. Boeing spokesperson Kelly Kaplan said on 10 January that the company has more than 40 tankers in build and assembly. Nine aircraft are undergoing customer acceptance testing.

One of the KC-46A’s big problems is with the remote vision system (RVS) and the refuelling boom. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in an April 2018 report that there were many instances where the boom nozzle contacted the receiver aircraft outside the refuelling receptacle and, in many cases, aerial refuelling operators were unaware that those contacts had occurred.

Boom nozzle contact outside the receptacle can damage antennae or other nearby structures. This is problematic for low observable aircraft, such as the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, because it can damage radar-absorbing coatings.

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