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A KC-46 conducts in-flight refueling on a B-2 bomber in this illustration. The first KC-46 is expected to fly in 2015. (U.S. Air Force illustration)
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KC-46 progressing on track

Posted 4/9/2013   Updated 4/9/2013 Email story   Print story


by Daryl Mayer
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

4/9/2013 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- The top acquisition priority in the Air Force - acquiring a new aerial refueling capability - is proceeding "on track" according to Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Program Executive Officer for Tankers.

Two years and several key milestones after the contract was awarded, a great deal of progress has been made. The Preliminary Design Review completed last year ensured the basic design would meet the key performance parameters required by the Air Force. Now, the program is steaming toward the completion of the Critical Design Review later this year setting the stage to build and fly the first KC-46 in 2015.

Initial concerns that Sequestration could force a contract renegotiation appear to be allayed based on increased flexibility afforded by the recent continuing resolution.

"There is no final assessment yet, but it appears positive," General Thompson said.

The Air Force contracted with Boeing in February 2011 to acquire 179 KC-46 Tankers to begin recapitalizing the KC-135 fleet. The initial delivery target is for 18 tankers by 2017. Production will then ramp up to deliver all 179 tankers by 2028.

"When the final KC-46s are delivered in 2028, they will replace KC-135s that are on the order of 80 years old," General Thompson said emphasizing the criticality of meeting program milestones.

The KC-46 contract has been widely cited as a model for future programs. Characterized as "fair to both parties" by General Thompson, financial risk for the Air Force is limited to $4.9 billion for the development program, which includes the initial 4 aircraft.

The general is quick to add that Boeing has the contract which is "worth about $32 billion in then-year dollars, goes from about two years ago out into the 2020s and is something that they will be able to leverage into a very important weapon system for the United States Air Force for decades to come. Absolutely, it is a win-win."

The KC-46 is a commercial derivative based on the Boeing 767-200, according to Col. Shaun Morris, KC-46 System Program Manager. When a new 767-2C is completed in the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash., it will be flown to Boeing facility in Puget Sound to complete the military modification that turns it into a KC-46.

The aircraft brings a wide range of new capabilities to the warfighter. It is 15-20% larger than the KC-135 and can carry 58 passengers, 54 aeromedical patients and 18 cargo pallets - all substantially more than the legacy aircraft. Performance is also improved with the ability to perform boom and drogue refueling operations on the same sortie, though not simultaneously, using the 1200 gallon-per-minute fly-by-wire centerline boom or the 400 gallon-per-minute Centerline Drogue System. In addition, the KC-46 can be equipped with two 400 gallon-per-minute Wing Air Refueling Pods which can be used to refuel two aircraft simultaneously.

The new tanker will be fully capable of day and night operations and also be a receiver itself meaning it can be refueled in flight which will improve loiter time - all important characteristics offering increased flexibility for mission planners.

Inside the digital glass cockpit, pilots will find complete flight and weather data on 15" displays. Immediately behind at the boom operator station, 24" displays will offer a three-dimensional view just below multiple monitors that show a panoramic 185 degree field of view. Pilots will also be able to bring up refueling operations on cockpit displays.

On the near horizon, the Program Office is looking to award a contract for the Aircrew Training System, which includes a KC-46 simulator. Then in 2014, the office, in concert with Air Mobility Command, will begin serious initial requirements work on the second phase, known as KC-Y, of the three-phase program to replace more of the aging tanker fleet.

4/24/2013 3:27:37 PM ET
Read the article by 2028 when final delivery is expected they will be close to 80 years old.
JM, March
4/17/2013 2:35:59 PM ET
Why not execute some common sense here Mr Mayer You don't REALLY think we've been flying KC-135s since 1933 do you
4/12/2013 1:21:05 PM ET
The KC-46 seems to be a superb airplane for multiple uses. The only thing wrong with it is that such a basic system took too many years to get approved given the high age of the airplanes being replaced especially.The Air Force needs less emphasis on new weapons and more and keeping its planes fully operational with a pre-planned regular schedule of not just maintenance but also replacement.In fact since we still used the B-52 and it is also an old airplane the Air Force should consider building replacement ones based on mostly the original design but today's more fuel efficient turbines. The B-52 has proven its reliability and without redevelopment would be sharply less expensive to build. The B-52 is not as versatile in wars between major powers which are not likely but it still has a major role to play in delivery of ordinance once air superiority is established in the more likely small conflict zones of the future in the developing world and has up to date counte
Walter L Johnson, Vancouver WA
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