Boeing has started assembly of the US Air Force’s (USAF) third KC-46A next-generation aerial refuelling tanker aircraft at its facility in Everett, Washington, US.
The move keeps the company on schedule to complete production of four test aircraft by the third quarter of 2014.
Boeing vice-president and KC-46 Tanker programme manager Maureen Dougherty said the company has opened the System Integration Labs and is also assembling a second refuelling boom, along with developing the three KC-46A tankers.
”We remain on track to deliver the initial 18 KC-46A tankers by 2017,” Dougherty said.
Boeing 767 programme vice-president and general manager Scott Campbell said, "Our teams are maintaining their focus on quality and productivity as we move the first tankers through production."
Developed from Boeing’s 767-200ER, KC-46A is a military aerial refuelling and strategic transport aircraft designed to replace the USAF’s ageing KC-135 Stratotankers fleet, which has served as its primary refuelling aircraft for more than 50 years.
Equipped with the Cobham centreline drogue system, integrated display system and four body fuel tanks, the wide body multimission aircraft will be capable of transporting fuel, cargo, passengers and patients, at a maximum speed of 915km/h.
Boeing is currently under contract to deliver 18 KC-46 refuelling aircraft by 2017 to USAF, which is planning to acquire a total of 179 tankers by 2027.
The first test aircraft is expected to roll out early next year, while the first test flight of a fully provisioned KC-46A tanker is planned for early 2015.
Delivery of the first production aircraft to the air force is anticipated to take place in early 2016.
Image: An impression of USAF’s KC-46A next-generation aerial refuelling tanker aircraft.Photo: file image.