EVERETT — Pegasus now flies for Uncle Sam.
Military brass and Boeing execs spent Thursday feting the new aerial-refueling tanker nicknamed after the mythological winged stallion. The day after the ceremony inside the Everett factory, it was time to get to work.
Two new KC-46 tankers, the first officially delivered to the U.S. Air Force, took off from Paine Field Friday. They departed shortly after 8 a.m., minutes apart from each other. They soared out toward the southern horizon, bound for McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.
They’re the first of 179 planned Everett-built tankers, which are based on Boeing’s 767 platform. Two more are expected to be ready soon.
Development isn’t quite finished. Military personnel now will put the jet “through its paces,” as one Boeing senior manager put it earlier in the week, and Boeing will get feedback.
The main mission of the KC-46 is refueling planes while in flight — to extend the range of fighters and other aircraft.
It also can ferry troops and cargo and can be configured with hospital beds.
The Pegasus differs from the commercial 767 in key ways. Where a civilian version would have luggage space under the cabin, this one has huge fuel tanks. It’s armoring will allow it to get close to combat zones.
The Pegasus will replace the KC-135 Stratotanker, which has been in use for more than 60 years. One of those also took off from Paine Field Friday, shortly before the KC-46s.
The Air Force began mulling a plan to replace the KC-135 more than 16 years ago. Boeing secured the KC-46 contract in 2011.