Boeing’s KC-46 Pegasus tanker could soon be back in the air carrying out military transport as the company is set to retrofit new parts to fix existing aircraft.
The aircraft, which serves primarily as an aerial refuelling tanker, was banned from transporting cargo and personnel after it was found that locks to secure pallets and chairs had come loose during flights.
Despite the issue, the US Air Force (USAF) had not slowed down on orders of the aircraft, which is due to replace its fleet of legacy KC-135 Stratotankers. A spokesperson for Boeing told Air Force Technology that the company had developed a fix for the lock and successfully tested it on the aircraft.
The company said the USAF has accepted the replacement part after meeting all the requirements during flight. Boeing added: “The safety of the KC-46 aircraft and crew is our top priority.”
The fix is being installed on in-production aircraft and is expected to be retrofitted on already-delivered KC-46 aircraft over the next few weeks. The USAF has yet to say whether or when the aircraft will return to transport duties once retrofitted.
Cargo locks never fully disconnected during flight, however, if they had it could have had disastrous consequences. Cargo coming loose in flight would affect the stability of an aircraft in the air potentially making it uncontrollable.
Boeing has delivered 23 tankers of a total of 179 that the USAF plans to procure. The aircraft are split between three bases: McConnell and Altus Air Force Bases and Pease Air National Guard Base. The USAF has accepted a further four aircraft which are yet to be delivered.
The KC-46 Pegasus, based on the commercial Boeing 767, was developed as a result of the USAF’s KC-X request for proposals for a new aerial tanker. Airbus also bid for the programme, but Boeing ultimately won. The first aircraft were delivered three years behind schedule in January 2019.
Israel and Japan have also ordered 10 KC-46 between them. Several other countries have also made requests to purchase the aircraft.
On its route to being fielded, the KC-46 has seen a number of other significant setbacks. The aircraft also had problems with its remote vision system, used to direct the refuelling boom. Boeing also received a contract to redesign and redevelop the boom so it could be used to refuel the A-10 Warthog.