The Boeing and the U.S. Air Force team behind the development of the KC-46A Pegasus tanker completed its first flight near the end of September, a four-hour flight that began at Paine Field and culminated at Boeing Field in Seattle. The first flight follows ongoing flight tests of the program’s first aircraft, a 767-2C that completed more than 150 flight test hours since making its first flight in December 2014.
During the most recent flight, Boeing test pilots performed operational checks on engines, flight controls, and environmental systems and took the tanker, being developed to replace the USAF's fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, to a maximum altitude of 35,000 ft. The tanker is powered by two Pratt & Whitney engines with 65,000 lb of thrust.
“We’ll now begin free air stability tests and flight controls of the boom and wing aerial refueling pods (WARPs) before conducting aerial refueling tests where the KC-46 will make contact with other military aircraft down the road,” said Col. Christopher Coombs, USAF KC-46 System Program Manager.
Tim Peters, Boeing KC-46 tanker Vice President and Program Manager, says the tanker program is on track to begin Milestone C testing "later this year." Milestone C is the point at which authorities determine whether a program has met all of its exit criteria of the Engineering & Manufacturing Development Phase and is ready to enter into the Production and Deployment Phase.
In the meantime, Boeing will conduct a post-flight inspection and calibrate instrumentation prior to the next series of flights, during which the tanker boom and WARPs systems will be deployed. Before the end of the year, the KC-46 will begin conducting aerial refueling flights with a number of U.S. Air Force aircraft. Those flights, along with the mission systems demonstrations and a recently completed ground cargo handling test, will support the planned Milestone C decision in 2016.
As part of a contract awarded in 2011 to design and develop the next-generation tanker, Boeing is building four test aircraft—two are currently configured as 767-2Cs and two KC-46A tankers. The KC-46s will fly as fully equipped tankers through the FAA and military certification process, while the 767-2Cs enter flight test prior to receiving their upgrade to the KC-46A configuration and the addition of their aerial refueling systems.
The KC-46A is being developed as a multirole tanker that can refuel all allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refueling procedures and can carry passengers, cargo, and patients. Overall, Boeing plans to build 179 KC-46 aircraft by 2017 for the USAF and is keeping pace toward meeting the Required Assets Available date—a milestone requiring 18 aircraft and all necessary support equipment to be on the ramp, ready to support warfighter needs by the August 2017.