First flight for Boeing’s KC-46A tanker program launched Sunday

Dec. 28, 2014: Boeing launched the first flight of its KC-46A tanker program on Sunday.

The flight, with a 767-2C and not a tanker-configured KC-46A, was with what’s known as EMD 1. EMD stands for Engineering, Manufacturing and Development. EMD 1 is the first of four 767-2C aircraft that will make up the flight test fleet.

EMD 2 will be a KC-46A with tanker configuration, as will EMD 4. EMD 3 will be like EMD 1. EMD 2, 3 and 4 will enter the flight test program next year. EMD 2 is scheduled to enter the program in April.

EMD 1 will be used to allow test pilots to get a sense of the basic integrity of the aircraft, verify handling characteristics, Chick Ramey, Boeing spokesman for the tanker program, told Leeham News. The fuselage is the standard 767-200ER but it has wings from the larger 767-300ER and cockpit features from the 787. These combine to make the 767-2C what Boeing terms a “minor modification” model, which requires certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration. Certification is also a requirement from the US Air Force.

“This really kicks off the flight test program for the tanker program,” Ramey told us. “This will be used for validation and FAA certification.”

EMD 1 took off from Paine Field, Everett (WA), where the plane was assembled and after some flying, landed at Boeing Field in Seattle.

The developmental test program for all four EMD aircraft continues through mid-2016, when the first KC-46As will be delivered to the USAF. Eighteen tankers are supposed to be delivered to the Air Force through 2017. Testing and training by the Air Force follows before the tankers go into service. The Air Force is expected to order 179 KC-46As to replace Boeing KC-135s. A follow-on order of an undetermined is also expected in the coming years.

17 Comments on “First flight for Boeing’s KC-46A tanker program launched Sunday

  1. Impressive. Boeing managed to sell Uncle Sam a warmed over 767-200, now flying nearly 34 years after the types first flight, and 14 years after the last -200 came off the production line (not counting a few tankers). Even powered with the PW4062, an engine launched in 1982! At least they got rid of the EFIS Cathode Ray Tubes…

    • Comparatively to the KC-135 (Boeing 367-80), the KC-46A is a very new platform.

      • Boeing 367-80 was brand new _and_ modern when the derivative KC-135 was ordered.
        ( You’re obviously correct for a 2014 snapshot.)

      • Interestingly the C135s got re-engined with the CFM56s at around the 25 year mark. The 767-200 does not even get re-engined.

      • Comparatively is quite apt, there’s no denying the airframes age. Critically with diminishing access to friendly landing sites is it man enough for a changing USAF role.

        It’s serving a limited market and setting aside competitor political loyalties no one is rushing to sign cheques for what many consider to be not fit for purpose airframe.

        • Why does Boeing need other orders? They’ve already got 180 or so in the bag, so it already will be in greater use than its competitor.

          Sure they’d like more. But I get some manufacturers would love to have that backlog for an airframe that will keep the line going and is paid for ( in theory, at least)

          • Those with a choice seem to prefer the “other” model.
            That probably grates a bit?
            The initial tanker (leasing) deal appears to have been a case of state charity.

    • I think that two factors need to be considered in this program. First, the replacement of the KC-135 was delayed by 10 years for different political reasons. At the beginning, the 767 was not “that old”. The 787 was not yet operational and the 777 was way to big. So the 767 was the natural choice for a american platform.

      Second, since the 767 is not very popular andt the 777X was not yet launched, Boeing needed a new contract to continue its assembly line at Everett.

    • Going by the buzz (just ~480posts) one would think that the KC-46A is a technological marvel on par with the Dreamliner.
      But nothing more than a rather basic 767 freighter airframe and the 1068th “first flight” of a 767 has been achieved up to now.

  2. @Uwe,

    Not grating at all, I think. Certainly not to me. If anyone else orders it, then what are you going to say? No matter how you spin it, at the end of the day, there will be more KC-46 tankers out there than A330MRTT, of which Boeing will probably be pretty pleased with themselves.

    • Due to the price of the F-35 US Air Force will need far less tankers than the expected 179.

  3. It’s a bit ironic that Boeing will probably be launching a new NB/NSA 757RS or whatever we want to call it this week, in/under 5 or so years, and that would probably have been an ideal platform for this to-be-in-service-60 or so years tanker.

    Everyone has plenty of opinions on the saga of this acquisition over the past 20 years but I think it’s universally agreed that the PW4062’s won’t be real economical to maintain past 2050 or so, as the USAF will probably be the only ones doing so on earth.

    • @texl1649
      The PW4062 selection I am continually baffled about. It just goes to my belief that P&W has a huge lobby within the military to basically push GE out of the military jet engine business. I cannot for the life of me not understand how the P&W 4062 lost to the much better GE CF6, especially considering it powers the C-5M and KC-10, and you have a good base of GE trained people working on the KC-135R CFM powered jets

        • @Hamilton,

          I know that part…I’m just wondering why they didn’t bid on both airframes. That part was very confusing to me, being that they are on the majority of in service 767s out there

  4. The KC-X competition was for a KC-135 replacement aircraft. The competition called for package deal aircraft. Boeing’s offering, titled KC-46A after award win, was their 767 variant (767-2C) with PW4062 engines. The USAF didn’t have an engine choice with Boeing’s offer–the PW engines were the sole engine choice in Boeing’s offer. Considering the specifications for a “KC-135 Replacement Aircraft” were based upon capabilities equal or greater than the KC-135, the 767 variant best fit the specifications at the lowest cost. Airbus’s A-330 variant offer significantly exceeded the competition’s minimum required capabilities. As a result, although a great aircraft, the A-330 largely lost the competition due to its higher unit cost and fuel burn as compared to Boeing’s 767 offering.

    Had Boeing offered a 787 variant instead of a 767 variant, they likely would have lost the competition due to the newer 787’s higher unit cost. For similar reasons, Boeing’s offer did not include thrust reversers or winglets. Their offer’s capabilities met or exceeded the “KC-135 Replacement Aircraft” specifications so addition of thrust reversers and winglets would have resulted in a higher offer price, increased weight, and added program risk.

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