KC-46, Pegasus back on track

Paolo Valpolini

With the foreign objects problem issue settled between Boeing and the US Air Force, the KC-46 Pegasus tanker aircraft should now start to be delivered at regular intervals to the service. “In 2019 we plan delivering 18 aircraft,” Matt Carreon, director International Sales Commercial Derivative Aircraft says, 18 being the contractual obligation, Boeing saying that the delivery of 36 aircraft remains possible. This year marked the first deliveries of the tanker B-767 derivative, although these were temporarily stopped when working tools were found in some sealed compartments.

Over 40 aircraft were in assembly/production status in mid-May, the first four production contracts totalling 52 KC-46. “The transformation of a B-767 into a KC-46 takes around nine months,” Carreon explains. The standard aircraft must be modified to host a number of systems in four main areas. Aerial refuelling capabilities include the aerial refuelling operator station, the 1,200 gallons per minute (4,540 litres per minute) modernized fly-by-wire boom, the two 400 gallons per minute (1,515 litres per minute) wing air refuelling pods and centreline drogue system, and the 1,200 gallons per minute refuelling receptacle. The cabin is fitted with a series of self-protection systems such as electromagnetic pulse hardening, NBC protection and flight deck armour, while all fuel tanks are fully inerted. The KC-46 is also fitted with a suite of defensive aid systems such as IR countermeasures, RF warning, threat avoidance and NVG lighting. The KC-46 features multirole capabilities, being able to carry cargo and passengers; a cargo door allows reconfiguring the aircraft from one mission to another, i.e. MEDEVAC, in less than two hours.

Back to the key role of the aircraft, aerial refuelling, for the time being it has been certified with nine receiver aircraft, F- 35, F-15, F-16, C-17, F/A-18, KC-135, A-10, KC-46, and B-52, while EC-130, MV-22 and C-5 were under certification while we visited St. Louis. “There have been already over 300 contacts between the F-35 and the KC-46,” underlines Matt Carreon, the Pegasus having completed over 3,800 flight hours in its test programme, offloading 4 million pounds (900,000 kg) of fuel. “We plan to certify the KC-46 for some 64 receivers, and most of the work should be done by 2020-21,” Carreon says adding that “we consider that the F-35 needs a dedicated air refueller, so we look with much interest at F-35 customers.”

Signing an FMS contract in December 2017 Japan became the first export customer of the KC-46, a further contract for a second aircraft having been signed one year later. The first Pegasus will be delivered to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force early 2021 closely followed by the second aircraft.

“We are negotiating with numerous other nations,” Carreon concludes, obviously avoiding giving any further detail on their identities.

Photos courtesy Boeing