Three years after winning the KC-X contract, Boeing workers in Everett, Washington, started building the first KC-46A refueller for the US Air Force on 26 June, the company says.

"The air force is really excited and pleased that our number one modernisation priority has begun fabrication and entered the factory at Everett," says Maj Gen John Thompson, the USAF's programme executive officer for tankers. "The Boeing team continues to make significant progress in the KC-46 development programme."

Construct of the new aircraft started with the fabrication of the KC-46A's wing spar, but Boeing is already preparing the 767 production line to assemble the tanker's aft and forward fuselage structures.

"The aircraft will be assembled in November and roll out of the factory in January," Boeing says.

The next major contractual milestone for the programme is the critical design review, which will start this July.

Starting in June 2014, Boeing will install military-unique systems on the baseline 767-2C aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. The baseline 767-2C aircraft will also fly that year. The first fully configured KC-46 is scheduled to fly early in 2015. The aircraft will be delivered to the USAF in 2016.

Boeing is contracted to build and deliver the first 18 KC-46As by 2017. The USAF hopes to procure a total of 179 by 2027 if all goes as planned.

The USAF awarded Boeing the KC-X contract in February 2011 over an Airbus A330-derived refueler proposed by EADS North America.

Source: Flight International