KC-46 tanker

Boeing is set to commence production of the first refuelling boom for the US Air Force’s (USAF) KC-46 aerial refuelling tanker aircraft at its newly opened Boom Assembly Center in Seattle, US.

US Air Force Tanker Program executive officer and KC-46 programme director major general, John Thompson, said the facility opening represents a significant milestone for the KC-46 Tanker Program and the USAF.

"Boeing continues to make good progress toward delivering the KC-46 Tanker on schedule," Thompson added.

Boeing KC-46 vice president and programme manager, Maureen Dougherty, said: "The KC-46A will feature a modernised fly-by-wire boom based on the proven system on the US Air Force’s KC-10 tanker, which will give it advanced refuelling capabilities, allowing it to refuel any fixed-wing receiver aircraft anytime and on any mission."

Following completion, the first boom will undergo evaluations at a System Integration Lab (SIL) during the third quarter of 2013.

The programme is set to enter the critical design review (CDR) phase in the summer of 2013, followed by a manufacturing phase at the company’s facility in Everett, Washington, US, later the same year.

Developed from the Boeing 767-200ER, the KC-46 is a military aerial refuelling and strategic transport aircraft, designed to replace the USAF’s ageing fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which served as its primary refuelling aircraft for more than 50 years.

Boeing is under contract to deliver 18 KC-46 refuelling aircraft by 2017 to the USAF, which is planning to procure a total of 179 tankers.

Deliveries will continue until 2028, with the initial flight of the first aircraft is scheduled to take place in late 2014.

Image: A KC-46 tanker refuelling the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft. Photo: courtesy of Boeing.