Boeing KC-46 Pegasus
|Boeing KC-46A prototype takes off from Paine Field on a test flight in July 2015.|
|Role||Air-to-air tanker, strategic airlift|
|First flight||25 September 2015|
|Primary user||United States Air Force|
|Program cost||US$46.21 billion|
|Developed from||Boeing KC-767|
The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is a military aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft developed by Boeing from its 767 jet airliner. In February 2011, the tanker was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) as the winner in the KC-X tanker competition to replace older KC-135 Stratotankers. The first 18 combat-ready aircraft are to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force by August 2017 under the terms of the development contract.
The U.S. Air Force ran a procurement program to replace around 100 of its oldest KC-135E Stratotankers, and selected Boeing's KC-767. The Boeing tanker received the KC-767A designation from the United States Department of Defense in 2002 and appearing in the 2004 edition of DoD model designation report. The Air Force decided to lease 100 KC-767 tankers from Boeing.
Despite several nations leasing military aircraft, there was criticism. US Senator John McCain and others criticized the draft leasing agreement as being wasteful and problematic. In response to the protests, the Air Force struck a compromise in November 2003, whereby it would purchase 80 KC-767 aircraft and lease 20 more. In December 2003, the Pentagon announced the project was to be frozen when an investigation of allegations of corruption led to the jailing of one of its former procurement executives who applied to work for Boeing. The Air Force's KC-767A contract was officially canceled by the DoD in January 2006.
USAF KC-X Program
In 2006 the USAF released a request for proposal (RFP) for a new tanker program, KC-X, to be selected by 2007. Boeing had also announced it may enter an even higher capability tanker based on the Boeing 777, named the KC-777 Strategic Tanker. Airbus partnered with Northrop Grumman to offer the Airbus A330 MRTT, the tanker version of the A330, which was being marketed to the USAF under the company name, KC-30.
In late January 2007 the USAF issued the KC-X Aerial Refueling Aircraft Request for Proposal. The RFP called for 179 (4 system development and demonstration and 175 production) tankers, in a contract worth an estimated US$40 billion. However, Northrop and EADS expressed their displeasure at how the RFP was structured and threatened to withdraw, leaving only Boeing to offer an aircraft.
On 12 February 2007, Boeing announced it was offering the KC-767 Advanced Tanker for the KC-X Tanker competition. Boeing stated that for KC-X's requirements, the KC-767 was a better fit than the KC-777. On 11 April 2007, Boeing submitted its KC-767 tanker proposal to U.S. Air Force. The KC-767 Advanced Tanker offered for this KC-X round was based on the in-development 767-200LRF (Long Range Freighter), rather than the -200ER on which Italian and Japanese KC-767 aircraft are based differing by combining the -200ER fuselage, -300F wing, gear, cargo door and floor, -400ER digital flightdeck and flaps, uprated engines, and "sixth-generation" fly-by-wire fuel delivery boom. The KC-767 uses manual flight control, allowing unrestricted maneuverability to avoid threats anywhere in the flight envelope.
Boeing submitted the final version of its proposal on 3 January 2008. On 29 February 2008, the DoD chose the Northrop Grumman/EADS KC-30, over the KC-767. The KC-30 was subsequently designated KC-45A by the Air Force. Boeing submitted a protest to the United States Government Accountability Office on 11 March 2008 and began waging a public relations campaign in support of their protest. On 18 June, following a series of admissions by the Air Force on the flaws in the bidding process, the GAO upheld Boeing's protest and recommended the contract be rebid. On 9 July 2008, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the Air Force would reopen bidding on the tanker contract. Secretary Gates put the contract for the KC-45 into an "expedited recompetition" with Defense Undersecretary John Young in charge of the selection process instead of the Air Force. A draft of the revised RFP was provided to the contractors on 6 August 2008 for comments. By mid-August the revised RFP was to be finalized. However, on 10 September 2008, the U.S. Defense Department canceled the KC-X solicitation.
On 24 September 2009, the USAF began the first steps in the new round of bids, with a clearer set of criteria, including reducing the number of requirements from 800 to 373 in an attempt to simplify the process and allow a more objective decision to be made. On 4 March 2010, Boeing announced it would bid the KC-767 tanker for the new KC-X round. EADS announced in April 2010 it would submit a tanker bid without Northrop Grumman as a U.S. partner. Boeing submitted its KC-767 "NewGen Tanker" bid on 9 July 2010. The company submitted a revised bid on 10 February 2011.
In addition to the KC-X, observers speculate that a modified KC-46 will be used as the basis of the KC-Y tanker program, the second step of the Air Force's three-step tanker renewal plan, as altering the KC-46 process and replacing it with something entirely new is likely too big of a risk.
Selection and early development
On 24 February 2011, the Air Force announced the selection of Boeing's KC-767. The aircraft will receive the designation KC-46A. Boeing was also awarded a development contract for the tanker. The contract calls for Boeing to complete and deliver 18 initial operational KC-46 tankers by 2017. The Air Force is seeking to receive a total of 179 new tankers. Boeing's "NewGen Tanker" is based on the 767-200 with an improved version of the KC-10 refueling boom, and cockpit displays from the 787.
In late June 2011, it was reported that development costs were projected to overrun by about $300 million. Boeing would be responsible for this amount, which exceeds the contract cost cap of $4.9 billion. In July 2011, revised cost projections indicated a reduced cost overrun. In March 2015, the program cost for development and procurement of 179 tankers was projected to total US$43.16 billion.
In 2013, the USAF added additional crews and flight hours for the aircraft to their future plans in response to a review that showed that the best of current plans did not take full advantage of the KC-46's cargo and aeromedical evacuation advantages over the KC-135.
On 21 August 2013, Boeing and the Air Force completed a critical design review (CDR) for the KC-46. The CDR was held from 8–10 July, and was completed one month ahead of the original schedule, which planned on the review to be finished on 24 September. With the CDR complete, the KC-46 design was set and production and testing could proceed. Assembling of the wing for the first aircraft began on 26 June 2013. Flight testing of the Boeing 767-2C airframe, which would be reconfigured into the KC-46, was scheduled to begin in mid-2014. The first fully equipped KC-46 tanker was projected to fly in early 2015. The contract calls for Boeing to build four test aircraft and deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by August 2017. The Air Force intended to buy 179 KC-46s, with all delivered by 2028.
On 12 December 2013, Boeing joined the wings and fuselage for the first 767-2C to be adapted into a KC-46A. On 23 December 2013, the first two PW4062 engines were delivered. The first of four 767-2C provision freighters were to complete assembly by the end of January 2014. Once assembled, it would go through ground vibration and instrumentation testing and have body fuel tanks added. The first test flight would occur during summer 2014 and include measuring its rate of climb and descent. The Engineering Manufacturing and Design (EMD) model would be integrated with instrumentation, electronics, and technologies needed to become a military-standard KC-46A by January 2015. Seven low-rate production KC-46s are to be delivered in 2015, 12 in 2016, and 15 delivered annually from 2017 to 2027. The KC-46A can carry 212,000 lb of fuel, 10 percent more than the KC-135, and 65,000 lb (29,000 kg) of cargo. It has both a probe and drogue and a boom and receptacle to conduct multiple refueling missions on a single mission. Survivability is improved with infrared countermeasures and the aircraft has limited electronic warfare capabilities. The airframe can be configured to carry 114 passengers and to serve as an aero-medical evacuation aircraft. The last of four test aircraft began assembly on 16 January 2014.
In April 2014, the Government Accountability Office found that the KC-46 program was projected to underrun its projected cost estimate of $51.7 billion by $300 million. The program acquisition unit cost per jet will also be $287 million, $1.8 million less than estimated. The GAO noted that delays in training air crew and maintainers could cause testing to slip 6–12 months, but also stated that the program had not missed any major milestones and that the development of about 15.8 million lines of software code was progressing as planned. In May 2014, the Air Force estimated the cost of the development program, including the first four aircraft, could rise from $4.4–4.9 billion to $5.85 billion.
In July 2014, Boeing recorded a $272 million pre-tax charge to cover a redesign of the tanker's wiring. The wiring issue arose when it was found that 5-10% of the wiring bundles did not have sufficient separation distance or were not properly shielded to meet an Air Force requirement for double or triple-redundant wiring for some mission systems. In September 2014, it was confirmed that the wiring redesign would delay the first 767-2C flight from June 2014 to November 2014. The 767-2C's first flight took place on 28 December 2014; it flew from Paine Field and landed at Boeing Field.
In July 2015, Boeing announced that it had taken a further $835 million pretax charge to pay for redesigns and retrofits required to address a faulty integrated fuel system. A Boeing spokesperson stated that “in preparing for and performing fuel system qualification testing, we identified a number of fuel system parts and components that did not meet specifications and needed to be redesigned. We’re adding the engineers and ancillary staff resources needed to support the engineering redesign, manufacturing retrofit and qualification and certification of the fuel system changes, and the conclusion of functional and flight testing." Boeing may have to wait an extra eight months for $3 billion in contracts on the KC-46 because of delays caused by the wiring and fuel system parts flaws, according to the USAF. Low-rate production contracts to build the first 19 of the tankers may be delayed from August to as late as April 2016 in the latest schedule revision agreed on by the Air Force and Boeing. The planned first flight of a fully equipped KC-46 is being delayed to as late as September 2015. Air Force Spokesman, Charles Gulick, noted that the primary goal, "delivery of 18 tankers by August 2017" can be met. The Bank of America/Merrill Lynch noted in July 2015 “We fail to understand how Boeing could take a $1.26 billion pre-tax charge (since it won the contract over Airbus) on the Boeing KC-46A program since the program is based on the 767 airframe that has been in production for over 30 years.”
On 24 January 2016, the KC-46 successfully refueling a F-16 for the first time during a 5 hour 36 minute sortie just over the shared coast of Washington state and Oregon. The KC-46A that accomplished the refueling milestone will next begin test refueling a number of other military aircraft, including a C-17, F/A-18, A-10 and AV-8B.
On 23 April 2014, the USAF announced that the KC-46 Pegasus will be based at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. The base will start receiving the first of 36 tankers in 2016. The KC-135 Stratotanker is currently stationed at this base. McConnell AFB was chosen because it had low construction costs and it is in a location with a high demand for air refueling. Up to 10 operating bases are to be chosen for the KC-46 fleet. Pegasus crews will be trained at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Altus AFB was also chosen for its limited construction needs and for other training programs for the C-17 Globemaster and KC-135 already at the base.
On 29 October 2015, the USAF announced that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, was chosen as the preferred alternative for the first Reserve-led KC-46A Pegasus main operating base. The KC-46As will begin arriving at Seymour Johnson in fiscal year 2019. Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts; and Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana were named as the reasonable alternatives. The Air Force plans to begin the Environmental Impact Analysis Process (EIAP). Once the requirements of the EIAP are complete, the Air Force will make its final basing decision.
In June 2014, Boeing submitted the KC-46 for the Republic of Korea Air Force's requirement for four aerial tankers. The KC-46 competed with the Airbus A330 MRTT, and South Korea selected the Airbus A330 MRTT in June 2015.
Boeing pitched the KC-46 to the Polish Air Force for their tanker requirement. In December 2014, Airbus was awarded a contract for four A330 MRTTs from a consortium of Poland, Netherlands, and Norway.
On 23 October 2015, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force selected the KC-46 as their new tanker, with a contract for three tankers expected in 2016. The decision allows for common operations and training with the USAF, and Japan was reportedly attracted to its capability to refuel MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors the JASDF will soon receive. Airbus had declined to compete the A330 MRTT for Japan because they viewed their request for proposals as clearly intended for the KC-46. The three tankers are to be fielded around 2020 at a cost of more than ¥20.8 billion, about US$173 million per aircraft.
- United States Air Force
- 418th Flight Test Squadron - Edwards AFB, California
- 97th Air Mobility Wing – Altus AFB, Oklahoma (planned host site)
- 22d Air Refueling Wing – McConnell AFB, Kansas (planned host site)
- 157th Air Refueling Wing – Pease ANGB, New Hampshire (planned host site)
- 916th Air Refueling Wing – Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina (planned host site)
- Crew: 3 (2 pilots, 1 boom operator) basic crew; 15 permanent seats for additional/optional air crew members, including aeromedical evacuation crew members
- Capacity: seating for up to 114 people, 18 463L pallets, or 58 patients (24 litters, 34 ambulatory)
- Payload: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
- Length: 165 ft 6 in (50.5 m)
- Wingspan: 157 ft 8 in (48.1 m)
- Height: 52 ft 1 in (15.9 m)
- Empty weight: 181,610 lb (82,377 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 415,000 lb (188,240 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan, 63,300 lbf (282 kN) each
- Fuel Capacity: 212,299 lb (96,297 kg)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 207,672 lb (94,198 kg)
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.86 (650 mph, 1046 km/h)
- Cruise speed: Mach 0.80 (530 mph, 851 km/h)
- Range: 6,385 nmi (12,200 km) ; global with in flight refueling
- Service ceiling: 40,100 ft (12,200 m)
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- EADS/Northrop Grumman KC-45
- Airbus A310 MRTT
- Airbus A330 MRTT
- Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker
- McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender
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