Boeing KC-46 tanker to fly Dec. 27 or 28, Air Force says

  • By Dan Catchpole Herald Writer
  • Monday, December 15, 2014 4:17pm
  • Business

EVERETT — Boeing workers and engineers are hustling to get the first test plane of the company’s aerial-refueling tanker program in the air later this month.

The aerospace company’s current goal — Dec. 27 or 28 — is six months later than Boeing had initially planned for the KC-46 tanker program. It can’t afford many more delays if the company is going to deliver the first batch of tankers to the U.S. Air Force on time, according to the general overseeing the program for the Air Force.

Boeing is responsible for an estimated $1.5 billion in development cost overruns, according to a cost-and-risk assessment completed by the Air Force in November, Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson said during a conference call with reporters.

That is about $441 million more than the military’s previous estimate, he said.

Developing the tanker, which is based on Boeing’s 767-200ER commercial jetliner, is expected to cost $6.4 billion. Boeing is working under a $4.4 billion development contract, and the Pentagon is to decide in September 2015 whether to proceed with production. The development contract is fixed-price, so the federal government’s costs are capped at $4.9 billion.

Boeing continues “to aggressively work plans to drive productivity, mitigate risks and lower our costs,” company spokesman Chick Ramey said.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 KC-46s by 2027 in the first of a three-phase overhaul of an aging tanker fleet. Those 179 planes will be worth an estimated $51 billion.

The first flight will be by a 767-2C, the tanker’s non-military test platform, which is on the Boeing flight line at Paine Field. Boeing had initially planned test flights this past summer, but problems with wiring bundles in the first test plane created about a six-month delay.

The first actual military KC-46 is expected to fly in the second half of April, Richardson said.

Boeing and the Air Force are focused on completing testing to get necessary certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.

Enough of the redesign and reinstallation has been finished to get the civilian test plane in the air Dec. 27 or 28, Richardson said, and more than half of the work has been done on the first KC-46 airplane.

Richardson said he is “pretty confident” that test flights will start before the end of the month and that there won’t be major delays going forward. “We’ve burned through a lot of risk” on the test plane.

The company is already working to address identified software issues that won’t likely affect the first flight, he said.

Boeing is expected to send a revised development-and-production schedule to the Air Force in February.

“I think they’ve been very transparent,” Richardson said of Boeing.

So far, the delays have only affected internal deadlines. The company’s first contractual deadline is August 2017, by which it has to deliver the first 18 tankers.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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