A KC-46 Pegasus refueling an A-10 Thunderbolt IIJuly 15, 2016. Boeing photo by John D. Parker.
Air Mobility Command is looking forward to an eventful 2018 on its KC-46 program, where it can move beyond delays and testing issues, and get a ready aircraft on the ramp.
"I hope a year from now, I can say that we got an airplane that was war ready on day one," Maj. Gen. Thomas Sharpy, deputy commander of Air Mobility Command, told Air Force Magazine at AFA's Air Warfare Symposium last week.
This year, AMC wants to see its school house at Altus AFB, Okla, up and running, with KC-46s at McConnell AFB, Kan., and infrastructure upgrades ready at Pease ANGB, N.H.; Seymour-Johnson AFB, N.C.; Travis AFB, Calif.; and JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
The KC-46 program has hit extensive delays, including most recently identifying three "deficiencies" in testing that could impact the aircraft's operational suitability. Most seriously, testing showed that the KC-46's boom could scrape the stealth coating of aircraft such as F-22s or B-2s through "undetected contacts outside the receptacle."
Other deficiencies focused on high-frequency radios in the wings of the aircraft. The aircraft cannot broadcast during refueling because there is a risk of arcing from static electricity. Test engineers could not determine if the jet’s radios remained turned off during refueling events. This deficiency was recently downgraded to a point where the aircraft is acceptable for delivery, but Boeing will be required to eliminate risk and remains "contractually accountable," according to the Air Force.
Lastly, a KC-46 boom experienced an "uncommanded" boom extension on the ground, caused by a spike of pressure after fuel flow stopped. This should be resolved by the end of May with a software fix, according to the Air Force.
"Every time you acquire a new airplane, there's fits and starts," Sharpy said. While there are issues with the KC-46, it has been a "tribute to our discipline" that requirements have remained steady with the stated goal of getting a "war ready aircraft on day one," he said. That day should come this spring when the Air Force's first KC-46 is delivered to McConnell, he said.
See also: The Tanker's Trying Time from the upcoming issue of Air Force Magazine.
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