KC-46A test aircraft makes maiden flight

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A KC-46A-provisioned Boeing 767-2C aircraft made its maiden flight from Paine Field in Washington on 28 December, the company announced.

The flight, which lasted 3 hours and 32 minutes, involved a 767-2C freighter that has been provisioned for (but not fitted with) the aerial-refuelling equipment that will turn it into a KC-46A Pegasus tanker for the US Air Force (USAF). The first flight of the fully provisioned KC-46A is scheduled to take place in the third quarter of 2015.

Boeing has been contracted to build four engineering, manufacture, and development KC-46A aircraft under the USD3.9 billion KC-X contract awarded by the USAF in 2011. With the first flight of one of the aircraft, the remaining three are in varying stages of construction at the company's Everett production facility near Seattle. Two of these aircraft will be 767-2Cs (to be fitted to KC-46A standard later), with the remaining two being built from the outset as fully-fledged KC-46As.

The first flight was originally supposed to have taken place earlier in 2014, but technical difficulties associated with installing the wiring bundles meant that this milestone was delayed. Even so, Boeing officials say that the programme remains on track, with the first 18 combat-ready tankers due to be handed over to the USAF in 2017. If all the KC-X options are exercised, a further 161 tankers should follow by 2027.

The KC-46A is one of three programmes that have been prioritised by the USAF as 'must have'; the other two being the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the long-range stealth bomber (LRS-B). As part of its preparations for the KC-46A's introduction into service, the USAF has already announced the standing up of the 418th Flight Test Squadron, Detachment 1, to be located at King County International Airport (colloquially known as Boeing Field) near Seattle.

This unit will work with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, Defense Contract Management Agency, and the Federal Aviation Administration at Boeing Field, as well as the test integrated product team in the programme office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio. Test work will be conducted at Boeing Field and at Edwards AFB in California.

Altus AFB in Oklahoma, has been selected as the KC-46A's formal training unit, with McConnell AFB in Kansas serving as the first active duty-led main operating base with 36 aircraft. Pease Air National Guard (ANG) Base, New Hampshire, is expected to be the first ANG base. The fleet will ultimately be based at 10 primary operating locations.

Full operating capability is expected to be declared in 2019.

KC-46A test aircraft makes maiden flight - IHS Jane's 360
 
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