KC-46 Aerial Refuelling Aircraft, United States of America

kc-46 aircraft

KC-46 Aerial Refuelling Aircraft, based on the KC-767 refuelling aircraft, is being manufactured by Boeing under a contract with the US Air Force (USAF). The contract calls for the manufacturing of 179 KC-46 tankers to replace the old KC-135 tankers that have been in service since 1965.

The KC-46 will be a wide body, multimission aircraft that will be capable of transporting fuel, cargo, passengers and patients.

Boeing will deliver 18 KC-46 tankers by 2017 and the entire fleet by 2027. The programme is expected to generate more than 50,000 jobs and involve about 800 suppliers.

Details of Boeing's tanker aircraft programme

"The KC-46 will be a wide body, multimission aircraft that will be capable of transporting fuel, cargo, passengers and patients."

The contract for KC-46 tankers was awarded to Boeing in February 2011. The company announced the major suppliers to be involved in the project in June 2011. The Integrated Baseline Review (IBR) for the programme was completed in August 2011.

The company also completed the System Requirements Review and Firm Configuration Reviews and Preliminary Design Review (PDR) prior to the start of assembling the first refuelling boom. The Critical Design Review (CDR) is expected to commence in the third quarter of 2013, following which the manufacturing process will start.

The first Tanker System Integration Laboratory (SIL) to support testing and reduce risk during manufacturing was opened in September 2012.

KC-46 aerial refuelling method

KC-46 will have a maximum fuel capacity of 212,000lb. The aircraft will be fitted with a flush-mounted air-to-air refuelling receptacle that is capable of accepting fuel at 1,200gal/min.

"The contract for KC-46 tankers was awarded to Boeing in February 2011."

The refuelling systems also include a digital fly-by-wire boom capable of offloading fuel at 1,200gal/min and a permanent centreline drogue system and removable wing air refuelling pods that can offload fuel at 400gal/min each.

Refuelling systems aboard the KC-46 will be managed by boom operators from the crew compartment featuring an Aerial Refuelling Operator Station (AROS). Cameras will be placed at the fuselage to provide a full view of the field, while a 3D video capturing camera on the boom is to be supplied by Rockwell Collins.

The fly-by-wire boom system will enable the boom operator to refuel all fixed-wing receiver aircraft irrespective of time and mission, and will be capable of carrying out simultaneous multipoint refuelling through the wing air refuelling pods.

KC-46 aerial refuelling aircraft design

KC-46 will be based on KC-767 but will witness certain modifications being made to the airframe by incorporating a cargo door and an advanced flight deck display. The airframe will also be militarised with air refuelling capabilities, an air refuelling operator station and threat detection and avoidance systems.

The tanker will be capable of carrying 18 cargo pallets and will be capable of transporting 58 passengers normally and up to 114 passengers during contingency operations. The tanker aircraft will also provide for urgent aeromedical evacuation by transporting 58 medical patients. The maximum takeoff weight of the tanker aircraft will be 415,000lb.

KC-46 cockpit, engines and performance

KC-46 will be capable of accommodating three main crew members including two pilots and a boom operator with capacity for 12 additional crew members.

The aircraft will be equipped with an integrated display system featuring diagonal crystal displays, a tactical situational awareness system (TSAC) and a remote vision system (RVS) combining both 3D and 2D technology for the boom operator. It will also feature communications, navigation, surveillance, networking and flight control systems, which will be provided by Rockwell Collins.

The mission control system will be supplied by GE Aviation Systems. Honeywell will supply the auxiliary power unit, cabin pressure control system and air data inertial navigation system. Northrop Grumman will supply the infrared countermeasures system for the aircraft.

Each USAF KC-46 tanker will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4062 engines, with each delivering 62,000lb of thrust. Each PW4062 engine has a fan blade diameter of 94in.

KC-46 will be capable of flying at a maximum speed of 915km/h. The cruise speed will be 851km/h. The range and service ceiling will be 12,200km and 12,200m respectively. The aircraft will weigh about 94,198kg and its maximum take-off weight will be 188,240kg.

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