Tuesday, January 26, 2016

KC-46A successfully completes maiden aerial refuelling

Boeing and U.S. Air Force aircrews successfully completed the KC-46A tanker’s first refueling flight on Jan. 24 in the skies above Washington state, marking a major step forward for the program that will serve as the backbone of USAF's global operations over the coming decades.


The KC-46A Pegasus successfully transferred fuel through its boom to an F-16C Fighting Falcon to demonstrate aerial refueling operations in advance of its first production decision later this spring.

The KC-46A is a multirole tanker Boeing is building for the U.S. Air Force that can refuel all allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refueling procedures and can carry passengers, cargo and patients.

Following takeoff from Boeing Field in Seattle, the KC-46A test team worked through a series of test points before smoothly offloading 1,600 pounds of fuel to the F-16 fighter aircraft flying at 20,000 feet.

The flight test milestone kicks off the Milestone C aerial refueling demonstration, which is the prerequisite for the low-rate initial production decision.

During the 5 hour and 43-minute flight, both Boeing and Air Force air refueling operators accomplished multiple contacts with the F-16 that confirmed the system was ready to transfer fuel.

Master Sgt. Lindsay Moon, a 13-year veteran boom operator, operated the boom controls passing fuel for the mission. He “flew” the tanker’s 56-foot boom downward and waited for the F-16 to move into position before fully extending the boom into its refueling receptacle.

The KC-46 offloaded fuel to the fighter and when the fuel transfer was complete, the system automatically turned off the pumps and Moon smoothly retracted the boom.

The refueling boom’s handling qualities throughout the flight were exceptional,” said Rickey Kahler, Boeing KC-46 air refueling operator who also guided the boom during contacts with the F-16 while sitting in the tanker’s state-of-the-art refueling operator station in the front of the tanker. “The boom was extremely stable – it handled like it was an extension of my arm.”

The aircraft will soon begin refueling a number of other military aircraft as well, including a C-17, F/A-18, A-10 and AV-8B. Also known as EMD-2, the tanker made its first flight September 25, 2015 and has now completed 32 flights.

The program’s first test aircraft (EMD-1), a 767-2C, has completed more than 260 flight test hours to date since its first flight in December 2014. EMD-3 and EMD-4 will begin flight testing later this year.

As part of a contract awarded in 2011 to design and develop the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft, Boeing is building four test aircraft – two are currently configured as 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers.

The tanker has a robust in-flight refueling demonstration schedule over the coming weeks. The test with the F-16C fulfilled the requirement to connect to a light/fast receiver. The remaining tests with the boom will use an A-10 Thunderbolt II as the light/slow receiver and a C-17 Globemaster III as the heavy receiver.

Flight tests employing the centerline drogue system and wing aerial refueling pods will use an F-18 Hornet as the light/fast receiver and an AV-8B Harrier as a light/slow receiver. The KC-46A will also have to demonstrate its receiver capability by taking fuel from a KC-10 Extender.

The Air Force contracted with Boeing in February 2011 to acquire 179 KC-46A tankers to begin recapitalizing the aging tanker fleet. The program is currently working to meet the required assets available date, a milestone requiring 18 KC-46A aircraft and all necessary support equipment to be on the ramp, ready to support warfighter needs, by August 2017.