The US Air Force’s new aerial refueler, KC-46A Pegasus successfully transferred fuel through its boom to an F-16C Fighting Falcon fighter today to demonstrate aerial refueling operations in advance of its first production decision later this spring. This was a major milestone for the air force, as the new aircraft is expected to a key enabler supporting the air force’s global operations over the coming decades.
“These are exciting times for the KC-46A Program. We have had plans on paper and data from simulation labs, but this in-flight demonstration shows we are truly making progress on bringing this capability of the next generation of tankers to the warfighter supporting our global missions for years to come.” said Col. Chris Coombs, KC-46 System Program Manager, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
The Air Force contracted with Boeing in February 2011 to acquire 179 KC-46A tankers to begin recapitalizing the aging tanker fleet. The program is currently working to meet the Required Assets Available date, a milestone requiring 18 KC-46A aircraft and all necessary support equipment to be on the ramp, ready to support warfighter needs, by August 2017.
The tanker has a robust in-flight refueling demonstration schedule over the coming weeks. The test with the F-16C fulfilled the requirement to connect to a light/fast receiver. The remaining tests with the boom will use an A-10 Thunderbolt II as the light/slow receiver and a C-17 Globemaster as the heavy receiver. Flight tests employing the centerline drogue system and wing aerial refueling pods will use an F-18 Hornet as the light/fast receiver and an AV-8B Harrier a light/slow receiver. The KC-46A will also have to demonstrate its receiver capability by taking fuel from a KC-10 Extender.
These refueling demonstrations represent the significant remaining test hurdles before proceeding to a Milestone C Low Rate Initial Production Decision. Program officials anticipate awarding the first production contract shortly thereafter.