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Boeing fixes KC-46 wiring issues, sets first flight for spring 2015

The first prototype of Boeing’s KC-46 aerial refueling tanker has been rewired to meet US Air Force standards and is being prepared for its first flight sometime in late spring 2015, the companies chief operating officer says.

“We’re doing final prep for first flight on tanker,” Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s president and COO, says on 3 December at the Credit Suisse Global Industrials Conference in Chicago. “We are feeling very good about where that program is at now that we’ve got some of those technical issues behind us. Now we’ll focus on executing the flight test program under development and then getting the programme into production.”

Boeing earlier this year alerted the air force to “anomalies” in the aircraft’s wiring, which is required to be triple redundant to meet military and US Federal Aviation Administration specifications.

The company launched a wiring audit that found about 5% of the aircraft’s 98,000 wiring bundles were installed too close to redundant counterparts. The first four engineering and manufacturing development aircraft had to be rewired before they could roll off the production line.

“Those have now been resolved and closed out,” he says. “That airplane is done. We completed factory functional test. That airplane has now rolled out of the factory.”

The aircraft is derived from Boeing’s 767 commercial jet and is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofans. The first EMD aircraft, a 767-2C that will not be fully configured as a tanker, will fly first, likely within the first three months of 2015, a Boeing spokesperson says. That aircraft is the one on the flight line in preparation for first flight. It will be followed later in the year by EMD 2, which will be fully configured as a KC-46 tanker.

In addition to serving as an aerial refueling tanker, KC-46As can be configured to accommodate cargo or up to 114 passengers, or to serve as an aero-medical evacuation aircraft

The first test aircraft has been fueled in preparation for flight testing and is on the flight line, Muilenburg says. The first tanker flights are scheduled for the second quarter of 2015, he says.

The air force is expected to make a Milestone C decision to enter low-rate initial production within the following three months. Boeing is then on the hook to deliver the first 18 operational tankers by 2017.

“We’re very confident that we will hit the mark on all three,” he says.

A provisional test 767-2C, a freighter variant of the aircraft, and the first EMD KC-46 are scheduled to fly in the second quarter of calendar year 2015. That is a change from September, when Maj Gen John Thompson, the air force’s KC-46 programme manager, said first flight would take place before the end of March.

The US air force needs at least 179 KC-46 tankers, which gives Boeing a “long, strong production profile”, he says. Potential international demand may increase orders from Boeing to between 400 and 500 aircraft, Muilenburg says.

[UPDATE: Article has been updated with information from Boeing detailing first-flight scheduling.]

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