By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Boeing Co. began production June 26 on the first U.S. Air Force KC-46A tanker, loading the aircraft’s wing spar inside the Everett factory.
The step comes just weeks before Air Force officials are expected to sign off on the tanker’s final design, the next major milestone as Boeing gears up to deliver the first KC-46A refueling tanker in 2016.
“The Air Force is really excited and pleased that our No. 1 modernization priority has begun fabrication and entered the factory at Everett,” Maj. Gen. John Thompson, U.S. Air Force Program Executive Officer for Tankers, said in a statement.
Over the next 14 years, Boeing will deliver 179 tankers to the Air Force, having won the tanker contract in 2011. Boeing’s KC-46 tanker is based on the commercial 767-200 Extended Range jet, assembled in Everett.
On Wednesday, Boeing workers slid the wing spar, the main structural component of the wing, into place on the 767 production line. The spar is 82 feet, 5 inches long and provides support for flight loads. Company employees also are preparing the line for assembly of the KC-46 tanker’s aft and forward body structures.
Boeing plans to roll this first KC-46 out of the factory in January. Employees at Boeing Field will install military systems on the aircraft next June with the tanker’s first flight set for early 2015.
“We’re proud to support the U.S. Air Force with a production line that emphasizes quality, efficiency and safety,” Scott Campbell, general manager of the 767 Program, said in a statement.
Boeing will provide 18 tankers to the Air Force by 2017 under a fixed-cost contract. The company would deliver 179 planes by 2027 if the Air Force exercises all the options, a step that will largely be based on how well Boeing performs in the initial stage of the contract.