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KC-46 Tanker Replacement Program

The KC-46A is intended to replace the U.S. Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers which has been the primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years. With more refueling capacity and enhanced capabilities, improved efficiency and increased capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation, the KC-46A will provide aerial refueling support to the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps as well as allied nation coalition force aircraft.

The Boeing Company was awarded a contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase of the KC-46 program on Feb. 24, 2011. The initial flight of the KC-46A aircraft is scheduled for late calendar year 2014. The current contract, with options, provides the Air Mobility Command an inventory of 179 KC-46 tankers.

The KC-46A will be able to refuel any fixed-wing receiver capable aircraft on any mission. This aircraft is equipped with a modernized KC-10 refueling boom integrated with proven fly-by-wire control system and delivering a fuel offload rate required for large aircraft. In addition, the hose and drogue system adds additional mission capability that is independently operable from the refueling boom system.

Two high-bypass turbofans, mounted under 34-degree swept wings, power the KC-46A to takeoff at gross weights up to 415,000 pounds. Nearly all internal fuel can be pumped through the boom, drogue and wing aerial refueling pods. The centerline drogue and wing aerial refueling pods are used to refuel aircraft fitted with probes. All aircraft will be configured for the installation of a multipoint refueling system.

MPRS configured aircraft will be capable of refueling two receiver aircraft simultaneously from special "pods" mounted under the wing. One crewmember known as the boom operator controls the boom, centerline drogue, and wing refueling pods during refueling operations. This new tanker utilizes an advanced KC-10 boom, a center mounted drogue and wing aerial refueling pods allowing it to refuel multiple types of receiver aircraft as well as foreign national aircraft on the same mission.

A cargo deck above the refueling system can accommodate a mix load of passengers, patients and cargo. The KC-46A can carry up to 18 463L cargo pallets. Seat tracks and the onboard cargo handling system make it possible to simultaneously carry palletized cargo, seats, and patient support pallets in a variety of combinations. The new tanker aircraft offers significantly increased cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities.

The aircrew compartment includes 15 permanent seats for aircrew which includes permanent seating for the aerial refueling operator and an aerial refueling instructor. Panoramic displays giving the ARO wing-tip to wing-tip situational awareness.

Boeing and the U.S. Air Force celebrated a much anticipated milestone 25 September 2015 when the KC-46A Pegasus Tanker aircraft took off on its inaugural flight from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. Test pilots conducted a four-hour flight, during which they performed a series of system checks before landing at Boeing Field in Seattle. Boeing would conduct a post-flight inspection and calibrate instrumentation before the next series of flights, during which the tanker boom and wing aerial refueling pod systems will be deployed. Before the end of the year, plans call for the KC-46 to conduct aerial refueling flights with a number of U.S. Air Force aircraft.

James Drew, wirting in Flight GLobal on 04 April 2016, reported that "The Boeing C-17 heavy cargo aircraft has become the sticking point in an otherwise speedy KC-46A aerial refuelling demonstration phase, with officials confirming that “higher-than-expected boom axial loads” have delayed trials with that aircraft and the A-10 attack airplane. C-17 testing began shortly after the successful passage of fuel to a Lockheed Martin F-16C in January, but with the turbulent “bow wave effect” generated by two large aircraft flying in line, the refuelling system indicated that the loads were too high to begin passing fuel."

Air Force officials announced fives bases as candidates for the next round of active duty-led KC-46A Pegasus basing on 23 June 2016. The bases include Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Fairchild AFB, Washington; Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota; Travis AFB, California; and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The KC-46As are expected to begin arriving at the second active duty-led global mobility wing in fiscal year 2020.

KC-46 Designation

The Air Force intended to designate its next aerial refueling aircraft the KC-45, regardless of whether Boeing's KC-767 or Northrop Grumman's KC-30 won the KC-X tanker replacement contest. The Air Force approved the designation on 14 November 2006, based on an Air Mobility Command recommendation.

There were two series of C-planes, one beginning in 1924 and ending in 1962, and another one beginning in 1962 and continuing to the present day. The Beechcraft Model 18, or "Twin Beech", as it was better known, is a 6-11 place, twin-engine, low-wing, conventional-gear aircraft that was manufactured by the Beech Aircraft Corporation of Wichita, Kansas. This model saw service during and after World War II in a number of versions including the United States Army Air Forces C-45 Expeditor.

Andreas Parsch reports that "The C-42 designation was not assigned. There is a very popular small sport plane, which is marketed world-wide under the "C-42" (or "C42") label: the German Comco-Ikarus C-42. A DOD source said unofficially, that there was some concern about potential legal issues if C-42 would be used for an MDS, and that this number was therefore skipped. The designations C-43 and C-44 were skipped to avoid potential confusion with the existing T/CT-43 and T-44 designators. According to unofficial information from DOD, there is an informal policy in effect to avoid duplication of "well-known" numbers. However, C-45 was not skipped (KC-45A is the official MDS for the KC-X tanker program), and it remains unclear why T-45 should be any less "well-known" than T-43 and -44. One possible explanation is that both the T-43 (Boeing 707) and T-44 (Raytheon/Beech King Air) are transport-type airframes (the T-45 is a two-seat jet), and that it was therefore avoided to assign numbers 43 and 44 to other transport aircraft as well." One authoritative source asserts that the C-43 is the US Coast Guard military version of Canadair CL-641 Challenger, but there is no such aircraft.

When the Airbus KC-30 entry won the tanker competition, it assumed the KC-45 nomenclature. In principle, two entirely different aircraft cannot, or at least should not, have the same designation though there is one famous exception to this rule. So when Boeing finally won the competition, the KC-45 designator was already taken, leaving KC-46 next in line.

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