The Air Force KC-46A program director described the critical development phases of the next-generation refueling aircraft during the 2012 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18.
Maj. Gen. John F. Thompson, program executive officer for Tanker Programs, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said that while KC-46’s preliminary aircraft design review is complete, additional steps must be taken to develop a final aircraft design that meets system requirements.
Thompson added that 18 months into the aircraft development program the KC-46A is on track for critical design review in the fourth quarter of next year.
“There is a possibility in any program to have 50 number one priorities; I have never believed in that concept,” Thompson said. “I will have a lot of number two and … number three priorities, but my number one priority … is to successfully get through the critical design review next year.”
The aircraft configuration will advance, Thompson explained, from the commercial Boeing model 767-200ER aircraft to a Boeing model 767-2C Provisioned Freighter variant before final modification into a military certified KC-46 tanker, Thompson explained.
Select design features will allow the aircraft to carry out its “multi-role capabilities,” including cargo transportation, passenger transportation and patient transportation (in addition to its primary role of aerial refueling),” Thompson added.
The KC-46 aircraft features an improved refueling system with 212,000 pounds of fuel delivery capabilities, capability to receive fuel in flight, 65,000 pounds of cargo carrying capability, passenger aero-medical capabilities, and engines each producing 62,000 pounds of thrust.
“Our goal is one program, one plan,” Thompson said. “We are actually bending metal on this aircraft — it is not just a paper design anymore.”
Currently, testing has begun for the KC-46. Testing to date includes live fire and system integration lab testing.
“From a sustainment and supportability standpoint … our goal is to go to 100 percent organically managed sustainment on this weapon system,” Thompson said.
This means the Air Force may partner with industry for certain sustainment repair activities, but will remain in the lead for management purposes.
Despite the work that still remains in the KC-46 development, 18 next-generation refuelers are scheduled to join the fleet by 2017, Thompson said, adding that a total of 179 KC-46 aircraft are slated to be delivered by 2027.