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Amid Ops Testing, KC-46 Makes International Debut

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PARIS AIR SHOW—In the midst of its operational testing, the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus is making its international debut at the Paris Air Show here, where the U.S. Air Force was able to connect with the first Japanese squadron that will receive the tanker.

During the show, members of the Air Force’s 344th Air Refueling Squadron met with personnel from the first Japanese squadron that will accept delivery of the KC-46, Lt. Col. Wes Spurlock, 344th air refueling squadron commander, told Aerospace DAILY June 19.

“They came over and gave us a plaque and we gave them a coin,” he said. “We got connected to them to talk about [the aircraft] as this community begins to grow.”

Spurlock’s squadron was the first in the Air Force to accept delivery of the KC-46. There currently are six aircraft at McConnell AFB, Kansas, and four of those are designated for initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E). Operational testing kicked off June 4.

“We’ve started IOT&E now and part of our biggest focus is expanding our envelope of what the airplane can do,” Spurlock said.

The operational test team is embedded with the squadron and achieving test points by allowing the airmen to complete their mission.

“Right now, pretty much any time we fly they are going to see test points they’ve not seen,” he said. “As we go further down the road we will refine the missions to meet those test points in anything from a local sortie … to a four-ship deployment.”

The KC-46A does not have the same maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) as the Boeing 737 MAX, but after the two fatal MAX airliner crashes the Air Force has trained for similar scenarios. The training scenarios are part of the aircraft’s simulator training syllabus, Spurlock said.

The Air Force is in a unique situation because the KC-46A is a new aircraft not just to the squadron but everywhere, Senior Master Sgt. Lindsay Moon, 344th air refueling squadron superintendent, told Aerospace DAILY during the same June 19 interview. Moon also was part of the KC-46A’s developmental test team as a senior boom operator.

“MCAS wasn’t the only situation where we’ve had to say, ‘OK, let’s take a second and make sure our unit, our base, the program office are all on the same page and comfortable with what the way forward is on a certain issue,’” Moon said. “We take a pause—make sure we understand it before we continue forward or what other things can we be doing in parallel while we make sure we get the right answer.”

Separately, the Air Force submitted nine critical performance parameters to Boeing for the KC-46A’s remote vision system (RVS). The service agreed to accept aircraft from Boeing although there is a design flaw in the RVS. The technical factors include depth plane curvature and plane compression, Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, told reporters here June 17.

“Those have been delivered to Boeing and they are contractually responsible for bringing a design that meets all nine of them,” he said. “We’re actively working with Boeing on that today and we do not have a design that’s been given currently that meets them, but we see our path to it.”

Roper believes the Air Force will receive a new RVS design from Boeing “within months” and anticipates the change will cut into production and retrofits and will be made in three to four years. The timing varies because it depends on how much of a hardware change is needed and what FAA certifications must be updated, he said.

Moon explained that from the fleet’s perspective there are different techniques used to operate the camera to make sure there is a clean, sharp image. The cameras need to be angled at a specific convergence point.

The problem with the current configuration is if it is not in the middle of the envelope, the image diverges and gets blurry, he said.

Another hurdle for the program is that foreign object debris was discovered on the brand-new aircraft. Boeing, the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Air Force are pleased with the rigor and thoroughness of the current inspections, Roper said.

“We each do inspections—they go through the airframe tip to tail,” he said. “If any foreign object debris is found, the inspection starts again and that continues until the airplane is clean.”

This method slows down deliveries to “one and change per month” from the original plan of three aircraft delivered each month.

The show is being held June 17-23.



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