At last, first Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker flies away

EVERETT — After months of delay and hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, a military version of the Boeing Co. aerial-refueling tanker flew for the first time Friday.

The first KC-46A, which is derived from the Boeing 767, took off from Paine Field at 1:24 p.m. and landed almost exactly four hours later at Boeing Field in Seattle.

A cheer went up from a crowd of several dozen standing near the runway at Paine Field and others on the nearby Strato Deck at the Future of Flight Aviation Center.

“It’s great to see it take off,” said Robert Hicks, 60, of Lake Stevens. “There was no doubt it was going to take off. It’s a good plane and the Air Force is going to love it.”

Hicks came out to see the first flight because he spent the past several years on the tanker program until he retired from Boeing in March.

The KC-46, dubbed the Pegasus, was originally supposed to fly in late 2014. An interim model, a 767-2C, has been undergoing flight tests.

Boeing is obligated to deliver to the U.S. Air Force 18 combat-ready tankers by August 2017. The Air Force plans to order a total of 179 tankers to be delivered by 2027, a contract worth an estimated $48.9 billion. The airplanes will replace the oldest KC-135 Stratotankers, which entered service in 1957.

The latest overrun was $536 million after taxes and was the result of problems recently discovered with the tanker’s integrated fuel system. It pushed the total cost overrun to $1.26 billion above Boeing’s $4.9 billion fixed-price contract.

Although flight testing is behind schedule, the company has begun low-rate production on the Everett 767 line.

With the first flight finished, Boeing crews now will conduct a post-flight inspection before the next series of flights, during which the tanker boom will be deployed.

Before the end of the year, the company expects the KC-46 will begin conducting aerial refueling flights with a number of Air Force jets.

But that testing couldn’t take place until Friday’s first flight.

The KC-46A was expected to take off in the morning and the all-gray plane rolled onto a taxiway shortly before 10 a.m. But low visibility left the plane sitting idle until the early afternoon.

Aviation enthusiast Ron Deguzman, 44, traveled from San Diego for the KC-46A’s first flight. He came out to Paine Field on Thursday to see the Chinese presidential plane take off, bound for Washington, D.C., and then returned Friday.

“It’s history in the making,” Deguzman said.

Retired Boeing flightline manager Hong Chau, 60, came from Wichita, Kansas, to witness the first flight. He worked on and off at Paine Field during his career and heard that the KC-46A was flying Friday. So he decided to take a vacation to come visit a friend and see the tanker go into the air.

“I love to see it when they take off,” Chau said.

When it did, the gray Pegasus disappeared into the gray sky.

Herald writer Dan Catchpole contributed.

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