The US Air Force and Boeing completed a critical design review (CDR) for the KC-46 tanker on 21 August. The milestone was completed one month ahead of the contract schedule, which called for the CDR to be finished by 24 September.
"I'm pleased to report that the design of the KC-46A tanker has been locked down," says Maj Gen John Thompson, the USAF's programme executive officer for tankers.
Boeing and the USAF have been working on component and sub-system design reviews for 10 months to get to this point. With the CDR complete, the KC-46 design is now set and production and testing can proceed.
Manufacture of the first KC-46 tanker is already underway. Boeing began assembling the wing for the first aircraft on 26 June. Flight testing of the basic Boeing 767-2C airframe, which will later be reconfigured into the KC-46, is scheduled to begin in mid-2014. The first fully-equipped KC-46 tanker is projected to fly in early 2015, according to the USAF.
Boeing is contracted to build four test aircraft and deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by August 2017. If the USAF exercises all of its options, the service will buy a total of 179 of the aircraft, which are expected to be delivered by 2028. The KC-46 is expected to replace a portion of the USAF's aged Boeing KC-135 tanker fleet.