In light of Boeing’s recent announcement they have begun assembly of the first KC-46 wing spar for the Air Force tanker program, Air Force Materiel Command officially stood-up the 418th Flight Test Squadron, Detachment 1, during an activation ceremony July 11 in Seattle, Wash.
“The detachment was established by AFMC Manpower, Personnel and Services [A1] to provide a permanent, non-TDY, presence for the 412th Test Wing as the responsible test organization for developmental test on the KC-46,” said Lt. Col. James Quashnock, 418th FLTS, Det. 1 commander. “For more than a year now, the personnel specialists at Edwards have been working with Headquarters AFMC to establish the detachment and then move personnel positions to the manning document. The first three members of the detachment arrived about three weeks ago and one of our first tasks was this activation ceremony.”
The detachment is part of the 418th FLTS and will report through the 412th TW to the Air Force Test Center, but will be based out of King County International Airport, which is commonly known as “Boeing Field,” according to Quashnock.
“When Boeing won the bid for the KC-46, the contract allowed them the flexibility to choose their test site. Boeing elected to test the aircraft out of Boeing Field where they conduct most of their commercial aircraft testing,” Quashnock said.
“Since the KC-46 is a derivative of the 767 design and will leverage much of the airworthiness testing from the commercial aspect of the 767, it was a logical location for Boeing.”
The KC-46A is intended to replace the United States Air Force’s aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers and provides vital air refueling capability for the United States Air Force
Although the detachment currently has three people at the location right now, Quashnock said by next summer the detachment is projected to increase to approximately 40 people in preparation for first flight in Seattle.
“We will have pilots, boom operators, flight test engineers, logisticians and disciplined engineers; all working together with their Boeing counterparts just like any integrated test force at Edwards. Many of the personnel are coming from Edwards and are already working on the program from their current positions and locations,” Quashnock said. “In addition to those 40 assigned to Det. 1, we will have a significant number of people working on the program from Edwards and from the test integrated product team at the program office in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.”
Additionally, the ITF will have the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, Defense Contract Management Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration working together daily at Boeing Field.
“We have an aggressive test schedule, which has us wrapping up developmental test and transitioning to dedicated operational test in the summer of 2016,” said Quashnock. “The test program will actually stretch over the whole country, but testing will primarily be accomplished out of Washington and some short duration testing will also be done at Edwards, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Detailed test plans are still being worked, but those three additional locations are very likely.”
According to Quashnock, the current fleet of more than 400 KC-135s is about more than 50 years old and this program will replace about half of those tankers with 179 KC-46s and add significantly to their capability. Added capabilities include: night vision compatibility, self-defense, and tactical datalink.
“Almost as important as the new capabilities, is the fact that the KC-46 will do all the legacy tanker missions with increased safety, more efficiency, and with far more reliability” added Quashnock.
“I’m very excited. The KC-46 is the Air Force’s number one acquisition priority and to be the person chosen to lead the government’s on-site test effort is a tremendous honor. We have been fortunate to have plenty of volunteers who want to get in on the ground floor of the program, so we’ve been able to recruit some of the very best people.”