Boeing will start building the first KC-46 tanker for the US Air Force during June 2013, a company official says.
"Starting in one month, we will begin final assembly of the wing structure," says Jake Howitt, Boeing's deputy KC-46 programme manager. "On 26 June we load the first tanker parts into the wing final assembly jig up at Everett [Washington]."
The start of final assembly is proceeding ahead of the 767-based aircraft's critical design review, which will finalise its engineering blueprints.
The debut flight of the full KC-46 should occur in the first quarter of 2015, Howitt says. But the 767-2C airframe, which the tanker is based on, is likely to be flown in the middle of 2014, before being modified for the air force. Boeing is hoping for a so-called milestone C production decision by the third quarter of 2015, he adds.
The first operational KC-46 is expected to be delivered in 2016, with Boeing's contract with the USAF requiring that 18 aircraft are operational by 2017. Full-rate production, which should be around 15 per year, will start around the same time, with an eventual total of 179 to be produced for the USAF.
Boeing is already talking to international customers about the KC-46, Howitt says. There is a lot of interest in the development and, over 10 years, international sales of between 25 and 50 airframes could be generated, he says.
Boeing should have the capacity to start building airframes for international customers in 2018.