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KC-46 tanker testing will begin at least a year behind schedule

Operational testing of the Boeing KC-46 aerial refueling tanker is expected to begin at least a year later than planned.

The US Defense Departments director of operational testing and evaluation (DOTE), in its annual report on ongoing development projects, says “readiness for the scheduled start of [the initial operational test and evaluation phase]continues to be high-risk with a 12-month delay expected.”

In the same report in 2013, initial operational testing was estimated to begin six to 12 months later than laid out in the tanker’s post milestone-B test and evaluation master plan. A March report by the Government Accountability Office put the testing start date at least nine months late.

Boeing is on contract to deliver 18 aircraft to the US air force in 2017. The DOTE report also calls into question whether that deadline will be met, but both Boeing and the air force tell Flightglobal that 18 aircraft will be available for operational testing by 2017.

“It is unlikely that Boeing and the Air Force will develop a schedule that delivers 18 different certified receiving aircraft ... prior to the start of familiarisation training for the [initial test and evaluation phase],” the report says.

DOTE recommends that both Boeing and the air force agree on a “realistic schedule” for aircraft delivery and testing. The programme did reach a major milestone in 2014 with the first flight of the first engineering and manufacturing development aircraft, a 767-2C that was not outfitted as a tanker. But that first flight was five months late.

Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson says the company is working with the air force to establish a realistic schedule. Since the DOTE report was drafted months ago, Boeing has corrected the wiring issue and has hastened the delivery of aircraft ahead of initial testing, she says.

“We’re working with the Air Force to ensure we have a realistic schedule that allows us to complete the necessary test requirements moving forward,” Hutcheson says. “That said, Boeing remains on plan to deliver the initial 18 combat-ready KC-46A tankers in 2017. Any adjustments made to the internal work schedule keep us on track to meet our commitments to the Air Force.”

Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick says the service’s integrated test team, made up of both uniformed and Boeing personnel, are planning an incremental approach to IOTE as aircraft become available.

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