Boeing’s new tanker achieves first flight

Boeing’s KC-46A air refueling tanker lifted off on its first flight at 3:24 p.m. Central time on Friday.
Boeing’s KC-46A air refueling tanker lifted off on its first flight at 3:24 p.m. Central time on Friday. Courtesy photo

Boeing’s KC-46A air refueling tanker took off on its first flight Friday afternoon.

The airplane lifted off at 3:24 p.m. Central time on Friday from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The airplane landed at 7:24 p.m. Central, completing a four-hour flight.

“Today’s flight will be a normal first flight for the most part (aside from making aviation history),” Boeing spokesman Charles Ramey wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle on Friday.

He said Boeing’s flight test crew would be checking the basic integrity of the airplane, its handling as well as testing its engines, flight controls and environmental systems.

Ramey said the next series of flights will involve deploying the airplane’s refueling boom and wing aerial refueling pods. He said aerial refueling test flights “will be a little farther down the road.”

Friday’s flight is important to Wichita because McConnell Air Force Base is slated to receive 36 of the new tankers, replacing the base’s fleet of aging KC-135 air refueling tankers. In preparation for receiving the tankers, McConnell has spent hundreds of millions of dollars for new facilities, including the construction of two new hangars to house the larger KC-46A.

Two other Air Force bases will also receive the KC-46A. Ramey said the first airplane is expected to be delivered to the Air Force in 2016.

The tanker program has suffered from delays and extra costs. In July, Boeing said it would take a $536 million after-tax charge because of higher engineering and manufacturing costs to complete certification and initial production of the airplane.

The KC-46A is based off Boeing’s twin-aisle 767 commercial airliner. Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita manufactures the forward fuselage of the airplane and other parts.

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.