Aviation

Reports: Air Force won’t accept more KC-46 tankers until they’re cleaned of debris

KC-46A Pegasus takes to the skies

The KC-46A Pegasus takes off for its first familiarization flight from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Feb. 26, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)
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The KC-46A Pegasus takes off for its first familiarization flight from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., Feb. 26, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

The U.S. Air Force won’t accept any more KC-46 tankers until Boeing cleans the airplanes of trash and other debris left behind during the productions process, according to multiple reports.

Military officials have apparently found loose tools and other foreign object debris, or FOD, inside the completed airplanes. The Seattle Times first reported the issue on Thursday, citing internal Boeing memos.

McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita and its two air refueling wings — the 22nd and 931st — were among the first to receive the new KC-46A Pegasus tanker in January. Two planes arrived at a ceremony, and Wichita is supposed to eventually get 36 of the new aircraft.

Boeing had missed multiple deadlines on getting the plane to the military, pushing back its first delivery by nearly two years. Air Force officials said in January that they were accepting the new tanker, even though it had deficiencies with the refueling boom system that Boeing would have to fix.

In the latest reports, FOD was found on aircraft, delaying the Air Force from accepting new tankers and grounding flights on Boeing’s productions line.

Reuters reported that no tankers have been accepted since Feb. 20, and none will be until aircraft are cleared of foreign debris and Boeing implements a corrective plan.

Air Force officials said that the military found “trash, tools, and things of that nature” on the planes, Air Force Magazine reported. Foreign objects, especially metal ones, can potentially cause damage or an electrical short, the Seattle Times reported.

In Wichita, the Air Force base has undergone $267 million in construction and renovations in preparation for the aircraft. The base has used its new training facility since May to train Air Force personnel from across the country.

An ongoing strike by contractors is likely affecting training at McConnell. The 17 striking workers of FlightSafety Services Corp. are contractors at the base, and provide training for Air Force pilots and refuel boom operators on the new tanker, union representatives said. They also maintain the flight simulators for the aircraft.

When it started last month, Air Force officials said the company was “expected to continue performing its contractual requirements,” adding that the strike could impact training for both McConnell and Altus Air Force bases.

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