Boeing begins work on second KC-46 tanker

Boeing began assembly this week of the second KC-46A tanker for the U.S. Air Force.

Boeing is expected to deliver 18 tankers to the Air Force by 2017 under the initial phase of the contract. The company plans to roll out the first 767-based aircraft from the factory in Everett in January.

“Production of the first tanker is going smoothly and remains on schedule,” Scott Campbell, 767 vice president and general manager, said in a statement.

Assembly on the first tanker began in June. This week, workers in Everett loaded the second tanker’s wing spar into an automated assembly tool. The wing spar, the main structural component of the wing, provides critical support for flight loads and the weight of the wings.

Boeing plans to finish assembly of the first four aircraft by July. Workers at Boeing Field in Seattle then will install military applications on the 767-based jets. Flight testing of the first fully provisioned tanker will begin in 2015.

“Completing production of the four test aircraft on schedule is our priority as we prepare to enter the flight test phase of the program,” Maj. Gen. John Thompson, U.S. Air Force Program Executive Officer for Tankers, said in a statement.

Although Boeing has begun assembly on the tanker, it still waits for the Air Force to sign off on full scale production of the aircraft. The Air Force finished an in-depth review last month of the design and build plan for the KC-46A but have yet to close out all remaining issues. Boeing and the Air Force said last month they expect to complete the final review ahead of the Sept. 24 contract deadline.

The first part of Boeing’s contract with the Air Force is a fixed cost agreement to deliver 18 tankers by 2017. If the Air Force is satisfied, it can exercise options for the Chicago-based company to provide a total of 179 tankers by 2027. Altogether, the deal is valued at up to $35 billion.

The Air Force awarded the contract to Boeing in 2011 after nearly a decade of competition for the lucrative deal. The KC-46A tankers will replace KC-135s, also built by Boeing. Those tankers have been operating for 50 years on average.

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