Boeing KC-46A cleared for production

Click on image to enlarge. Image via Google.

Aug. 14, 2016: The Pentagon cleared Boeing’s KC-46A aerial refueling tanker for Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) after the aircraft completed Milestone C refueling tests.

All that remains now is for the US Air Force and Boeing to execute the contracts.

This is welcome news for Boeing and the USAF.

The Air Force continues to operate Boeing KC-135 refueling tankers, a design from the 1950s. The last KC-135 was delivered in 1965.

The Air Force entertained replacing the KC-135 in 2001. It was 10 years before the KC-X replacement contract was award, to Boeing. The initial flight test aircraft program is $2bn over budget (pre-tax) and about a year late–but at this point, it appears that the LRIP for 19 aircraft should not encounter more obstacles.


45 Comments on “Boeing KC-46A cleared for production

  1. Interesting to note that the attached image only claims 58 passengers or 114 in ‘contingency’ situations.
    Firstly is this a drop in ability, I’ve only ever seen the higher figure, and second what is contingency planing

      • No, steerage, aka, bottom of the Titanic (bad, very bad)

        Reality is, you have a new staff moving to the Gulf, usual carry on and bags. 114.

        You have a crisis and its all hands on deck and you have 58 combat ready infantry, guns, ammo, grenades, the whole battle rattle.

        And of course they have their carry ons as you can’t fight long term without extra tity whities.

        And frankly its a non issue. The US has both large internal USAF carry capacity and more realistic, it has charters and the CRAF.

        IN a crisis you move troops on the others and you carry time critical freight on the USAF C17, C5s and the KCs carry random people that it works for to get from here to there.

        What most people don’t understand is a world wide capability means that the US has one bodacious logistical capacity and without that nothing matters.

        When they throw around the A330MRT thing, they don’t get that the US does not operate in dribs and drabs, its a massive logistics machine and an A330 (with all dues respect to it being a fine tanker finally ) it would be chump change in how the system operates.

        • ” all hands on deck and you have 58 combat ready infantry, guns, ammo, grenades, the whole battle rattle..”
          That would never happen like that, the troops would travel just like most other passengers. The KC46 isnt a plane to land at a hostile airport with troops fully kitted and armed to the teeth as they emerge from the doors.
          The low passenger count would more like a plane flying long distance to fuel say a small group of fighters on deployment and they take some support staff with them. Or it might be an aeromedical mission with some stretcher cases or others walking wounded. There would be many similar sorts of missions with changes to these details

        • Just read how the UASF get three F-35 to the UK and back: a KC-10 was used as main trailing aircraft and several additional KC-135. The KC-46 will be far to small for the Pacific and the F-35.

          The insignificant number of pax 114 and even fewer troops with gear is related to the occupied lower cargo deck of the KC-46. The KC-45 was able to handle far more pax or soldier with gear due to the empty lower cargo floor. LD3 is far better for that job than the 463L.

          CRAF is a bad solution for every day operations. USAF pilots won’t fly and also the USAF airframes. That’s one reason why all MRTT order were for airline seating. E.g. RAF is flying airline services to the Falklands with MRTT.

          • That Farnborough F35 deployment was a show case event, ( 6 F35s in total)they needed all sorts of backup equipment because it really isnt deployable yet. In normal service A KC46 could take quite a few F35 across the Atlantic.
            “Three F-35As from Luke Air Force Base’s 51st Fighter Wing took off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at about 8:00 a.m., meeting with KC-10 and KC-135 tankers over the Atlantic Ocean to be refueled. The planes flew over Greenland, south of Iceland and the west coast of Scotland into England. A fourth spare F-35 returned to the US midway.”

            “Each of the three remaining jets was refueled seven times during the almost eight-hour-long flight, refilling its tank via the KC-135 three times and via the KC-10 four times”

          • Dear dukeofurl,

            Here some facts.
            Lukes to Mildenhall: 4,600 nm
            Range of an F-35: 1,200 nm
            3,400 nm to go with tanker fuel for each F-35.
            With “some” safty margins about 3 reload at about 18,500 lb.

            A 767-300ER can carry about 75,000 lb at 4,500 nm (just checke the official Boeing documents on the 767).
            With one gustling F-35 sucking 55,000 lb you won’t get many F-35 over such a distance.

            At 4,500 nm an MRTT can carry over 100,000 lb.

          • MHUALIB

            Per you comment below, the CRAF is over utilized, ie the USAF spends more than the contract required.

            I can’t emphasize that enough. It works better for the USAF to use it more not the minimum as it works out better.

            Others may be able to use A330MRT to carry passengers around, why would you do that when you can hire that out?

            Do you want a career sergeant being a Janitor ? Of course not, you hire the things out that make sense.

            Again you miss the point, the US has world wide operation’s going all the time. Even the dedicated air lifters are not enough and you can make an argument its better to wear out civilian aircraft than C17s you can never replace. C5 being on its 3rd major reman.

            If your tanker is carrying troops to the Falklands, it can’t tanker over Syria can it?

            As for the tanking, that’s why the US has invested in a world wide network of overseas bases. You could not run Trans Atlantic fighter ops anyway (no base, get the NAVY), otherwise you base out of forward local bases be they owned, leased or ops rights.

            Said Navy (and Marines)_ would be working to seize something that you could base aircraft on the same they did in WWII.

          • My apologies to MHalblaub for spelling his name wrong.

          • MHalblaub

            The KC46 is not a 767-300, it is a 767 2C

            Unload is 207,000 lbs.. I don’t have the range breakdowns out at 4500.

            Typically they would be fueled leaving the US then midway and then towards destination

            It seems like they were extremely conservative with that many fueling (or practicing) as the KC10 and even KC135s may be new to pilots flying the F-35.

            A 767-300ER can carry about 75,000 lb at 4,500 nm (just checke the official Boeing documents on the 767).

          • Also add US does not typically drag fighters across. As this is a one shot deployment, spares and crew services taken along. We have bases on the corridors and the ones overseas would take over as they got in the Atlantic segment towards continental Europe.

          • The KC-46 is a 767-300F version.
            It has the strengthened wings , undercarriage etc to carry 767-300F loads. The only difference is its a bit shorter fuselage up front ( probably to account for extra weight of tanker equipment)
            Its definitely not a 767-200 copy as its longer .

            The production line is only turning out 767-300F models for Fed-Ex so it makes economic sense for the military and civilian versions to have as much in common as possible. There was never a production 200F.

          • The fuselage length of the KC-46A (165 ft 6 in) is much closer to the 767-200 (159 ft 2 in) than the 767-300 (180 ft 3 in). Could the extra 6 ft 4 in be due to the part of the boom stowed behind the tail-cone? I’m not sure what the convention is for aircraft length measurements.

          • At any rate, using 767-300ER specs to predict KC-46A performance is dubious.

          • I meant to say “compare” instead of “predict”.

          • Its not 767-300ER specs, its the 777-300F specs that are best match for KC-46

            We can compare the KC-767 which is based on the 767-200, its fuel load is 73t. The KC-46 is of course 96t
            From these numbers we can clearly see the KC46 is a much more impressive plane

          • dukeofurl

            I assume you meant 767-300F not 777-300F! (which does not exist)

            As this is the 767-2C we need 2C range and fuel specs and have not been able to find them.

  2. Good for them and its about dang time!

    Now lets let that baby rock and roll and see how it competes with the A330 MRT (India comes to mind)_

  3. Yes, the LRIP decision was about 1 year late, but according the USAF approved Boeing schedule the 19 LRIP deliveries will only end up being 5 months late. Boeing started production on risk to make this happen. Hopefully the change incorporation after certification will be minimal. If not, it’s going to be costly. Also, there better not be any more obstacles because there is ZERO margin left in the schedule.

  4. Late and short on capabilities (WRAPS) so USAF will also impose penalties in connection with the new contracts… This could take some time???

    • Yes, but not having the WARPS right away is not a large degradation in capability. The centerline hose and drogue will refuel any probe equipped aircraft. Only the simultaneous refueling of small probe equipped aircraft will not be available until the WARPS is certified.

      • There is way too much emphasis in general on having everything at once. That’s what you have upgrades for. Trying to deliver F-35s with maybe ready maybe 5 years away tech is causing big headaches. Countries like Australia want it now and will pay what it takes to catch up later. Alternative is running out of aircraft as the pace of operations in recent years has far outstripped expectations and fatigue life is running out. I don’t know if the USAF has this problem but given the discussion about shortage of aircraft I guess it has.

        So I think USAF needs to EIS/IOC the aircraft ASAP and be done with it.

        • You pay a price to put it in service without ops capability.

          F-35 can’t even do combat without an escort.

          USAF has a pilot problem, NAVY has an aircraft problem.

          Problem is back fitting some of those fixes is horrendous.

          • F-35 was planned to have abilities that didn’t exist at the time, just about the year 2000. It just isn’t practical to predict what will mature enough and be working, trying to incorporate things which might or might not exist is turning into a hopeless nightmare in our changing world. If it didn’t take 15 years to develop and you had to look two or three years ahead you could do it, but the current idea of a finished project is last century, and the delay means countries might be forced to buy expensive older tech aircraft which only have 5 years front line use in modern defence environments as a bridge. A very expensive saving. Has anybody heard of a finished airliner? Block changes happen all the time.

          • These are not block changes.

            These are the original basic combat capability for the aircraft .

            Beyond all electric, it can’t function worth a hoot without the software. Its not talking to its own self right now (mission wise, it will take off and do a turn)

            Said software has not reached even the original agreed on schedule or capability.

            It is flexible for future upgrades, those are easily plugged in.

            When it can’t launch an air to air missiles that was designed from the start then its severely impaired.

      • The centre line drogue and the wing pods drogue are the same system, just packaged slightly differently.
        So USAF wont be using its centre line drogues till all the bugs are ironed out. As well there will only be something like 30 sets of wing pods over the current fleet on order so it may be restricted to one base to make the training easier

        • There are no bugs. The issue is that the supplier of the centerline drogue system and the WARPS didn’t use FAA processes in the design. Thus, a whole lot of paperwork is going to have to be generated for certification and probably some test data is going to have to be re-generated. Check out at the bottom of page 10.

          “Obtain FAA approval of key components: FAA and program officials report that while most of the KC-46 components have been deemed ready for certification by the FAA, two key aerial refueling systems have not. In order to obtain airworthiness certification from the FAA, the KC-46 and its components must be designed, built, and then tested through the FAA’s regulatory process. The supplier for the centerline drogue system and wing aerial refueling pods, however, built the systems without following FAA processes. Consequently, the supplier was told by the FAA in late 2014 that the FAA would need to inspect the individual parts to ensure design conformance. During this process, the supplier discovered a design flaw with the aerial refueling pods, which caused further delays.”

          Also, according to several articles that I’ve read, the LRIP frames will be delivered with the centerline hose and drogue system. An example;

          “As of the latest revision, the 18th aircraft will be delivered in January 2018, according to Boeing.”

          “The manufacturer said “the underlying production system remains on track,” and that 18 tankers will be in various stages of incorporating final changes and certification by August 2017. The first production aircraft will be equipped with the refueling boom and centerline drogue system, but not the wing-mounted refueling pods. “The WARP systems required to complete full contractual RAA (required assets available) will be delivered separately in October 2018,” Boeing said.”

          • Thats is contradicted by this statement about the centre drogues

            “The delay in delivery of the first 18 aircraft is due to complexities related to qualification and certification of the aircraft’s centreline drogue and wing-aerial refuelling pod (WARP) systems.”


            Its clear the first 18 dont require the WARP system to be active, but as they are essentially the same system they are in breach for not supplying a working centre drogue with the current batch.
            It cant be possible if the drogue design hasnt had proper certification that it would usable on the centre line.

          • dukeofurl,

            I get what you’re saying about the systems being the same. However, they are not completely the same due to the simple fact that they are attached differently at different locations. The two systems affect the aircraft differently both aerodynamically and structurally. And, the aircraft affects those systems differently as well. For example, I don’t think it at all probable that the centerline system would cause wing flutter issues.

            So, I agree that a good amount of the certification work that needs doing will be common to both systems but not all of it, especially the flight test portions. I think Boeing is rightly prioritizing the centerline system over the WARPS, and the WARPS will require more flight test time to certify.

            I could be wrong about this of course, but I haven’t read anything that indicates the centerline drogue system installed in the delivered LRIP frames will be not usable due to lack of certification. It could be a case of Boeing asking the FAA for a temporary waiver that allows the USAF to start training on the system before certification.

          • I keep seeing its an FAA thing pop up, but then if morphs into wing flutter and ……

            So the pods were certified but the attaching parts not?

            This sounds as Fishy (not sorry, did not want to not use that one) and the US Swimmers at the Olympics and the fake robbery.

          • “I keep seeing its an FAA thing pop up, but then if morphs into wing flutter and ……”

            “So the pods were certified but the attaching parts not?”

            I used wing flutter and attachment only as an EXAMPLE of how the WARPS differs from the centerline drogue system, and therefore how certification of the two systems COULD differ and also MIGHT be on different schedules. As always, context is important.

  5. It’s too late now, but just an observation. Won’t the AF be kicking itself– in ten years or so–for not specifying GEnx engines for these KC-46As? Maybe they can get some down the road for “KC-46Bs”?

    • No it wont. They much prefer to have keep the same PW engine series as the C-17. The annual flying hours of a KC46 is too low to make much of a difference.
      Instead of a commercial long range airliner which would be flying 12 hours a day, these might be flying on average 2hrs a week. Deployed aircraft would be higher for short periods. Boeing has had enough issues without a whole new engine for the 767, and charging the USAF for the privilege.

      • “They much prefer to have keep the same PW engine series as the C-17.”
        But the C-17 has PW2000 and the KC-46 PW4000? And a KC-45 would have CF6 before they got onto the C-5??!?

        • Oops . You are right. The C-17s PW is based on the smaller engine for the 757 not the 767.

          • I never did see the rational for the P&W engine. I am not against it, but GE would seem to have been the choice.

            Still a lower tech engine is easier to maintain than the high tech ones. Most maint personal grew up with the current engine choice types.

            If they can find the parts to keep the tube engines on AWACS going they should have not problem with these.

      • Its is more about improving offload and linger capabilities than cost of fuel.
        Then these frames will stay in the fleet for quite a while.
        PW4000 will be out of the loop for all other users. ( after all it is was new ages ago in the mid 80ties.)
        GenX has a better change of still being common.

  6. The KC46 is a tanker variant of the 767-2C, a new (as of 2011) cargo variant of the 767-200. With 767-300 wings and undercarriage for higher weights

    Main article: Boeing KC-46 Pegasus

    A commercial freighter version of the Boeing 767-200 with series 300 wings and an updated flightdeck was first flown on 29 December 2014.[126] A military tanker variant of the Boeing 767-2C is being developed for the U.S. Air Force as the KC-46.[126] Boeing is building two aircraft as commercial freighters which will be used to obtain Federal Aviation Administration certification, a further two Boeing 767-2Cs will be modified as military tankers.[126] As of 2014, Boeing does not have customers for the freighter.[126]

    Fuel capacity IS 212,299 lb (31686 gal). Which is more than the 767-300 (24140 gal) and the KC767. Boeing offered the KC767 for round 1 (the lease option). For round 2, Boeing offered a 777 derivative and a plane based upon a combination of the 767-200 body and the 767-300 wings and undercarriage. This is the 767-2C which the KC46 is based upon. It is clear that the KC46 has belly tanks – as opposed to the KC767 (or the A330MRTT) which only has the fuel its wings and center section can hold.

    The KC46 uses less fuel per hour, so beyond 1500 or so miles, it actually transfers more fuel than the A330MRTT. The cost is less cargo capacity, which as other posters have pointed out, is not that important to the USAF.

    • I checked with Boeing and the KC-46A is based on the 767-200ER platform.


      • Do you have any links to range and offloads?

        A commercial freighter version of the Boeing 767-200 with series 300 wings and an updated flightdeck was first flown on 29 December 2014.[126] A military tanker variant of the Boeing 767-2C is being developed for the U.S. Air Force as the KC-46.[126

  7. One thing I continue to wonder about, the AF was talking about compensation.

    Unless its part of the contract, this is not like an airline where you are try8ng to make points, keep future options open.

    Unless that is in the contract the AF is stuck with the schedule and does not pay the excess costs (taxpayer do but not AF!)

    If my mom had only told me I needed to incorporate as a business when I was born!

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