Boeing KC-46 Program Completes Flight Testing Required for First Delivery to U.S. Air Force

“Receiver” refueling certification will conclude before Initial Operational Test & Evaluation

A Boeing KC-46A Pegasus tanker prepares for receiver certification testing, conducted out of Boeing Field in Seattle. The Boeing and U.S. Air Force test team recently completed all flight testing that is required prior to first delivery. Testing included receiver certification flights with KC-135, F-16 and C-17 aircraft (Image source: Paul Weatherman, Boeing).

Boeing  and U.S Air Force  teams recently achieved a major KC-46 Pegasus  tanker program milestone, completing all flight testing required for first delivery. This past week, the KC-46 team concluded both its Military Type Certification (MTC) testing and receiver certification testing with KC-135 , F-16 , and C-17  aircraft.

“This is a significant achievement for the Boeing-Air Force team and continues us on our path to first delivery in October,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager.

Receiver certification, which began in April, was conducted from Boeing Field in Seattle and Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. As part of the testing, KC-46 and receiver aircraft flew at different airspeeds, altitudes, and configurations to ensure compatibility and performance throughout the refueling envelope of each receiver.

Receiver certification testing of A-10  and KC-46 has also begun, with final certification of A-10, F/A-18 , KC-46, F-15  and B-52  to be completed prior to the start of Initial Operational Test & Evaluation testing.

When in service, the KC-46 will refuel U.S., allied and coalition military aircraft, but also must be able to take on fuel to extend its operational range—hence the need for a KC-46 to KC-46 refueling certification.

“Our main focus now is obtaining the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the formal Military Type Certification from the U.S. Air Force,” Gibbons said.

The program has six KC-46 aircraft that have supported various segments of STC and MTC testing. Overall, they have completed 3,300 flight hours and offloaded two million pounds of fuel during refueling flights with F-16, F/A-18, AV-8B , C-17, A-10, KC-10 , and KC-46 aircraft.

The KC-46, derived from Boeing’s commercial 767 airframe , is built in the company’s Everett, Wash., facility. Boeing is currently on contract for the first 34 of an expected 179 tankers for the U.S. Air Force, which will replace aging Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers; the last of which were built in 1965.

To refuel other aircraft, the multirole tanker is equipped with a telescoping boom, and flexible hose and drogue systems. The boom can transfer up to 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute, while the hose and drogue systems, located on both the plane’s wing and centerline, enables the KC-46 to refuel smaller aircraft at a rate of 400 gallons of fuel per minute. In addition to space for the crew of three – two pilots and one boom operator – the KC-46 Pegasus also has dedicated space for 15 additional crew members or aeromedical staff.

Additionally, the reconfigurable cargo deck of the KC-46 can hold up to 54 medical patients or up to 114 troops.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

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