Boeing says KC-46 tanker’s first flight further delayed

EVERETT — Boeing’s new aerial refueling tanker, the KC-46A Pegasus, won’t fly until late September or early October following a chemical mix-up last month that damaged the plane’s fuel system, a company spokesman said Monday.

The damage occurred while testing the plane’s fuel system at Boeing’s Paine Field facilities adjacent to its Everett plant, where the tanker is assembled.

Boeing mechanics used a fuel substitute that a supplier had labeled as OK for use in the airplane’s fuel system, “when, in fact, it was not,” Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said Monday. “We flushed the affected parts and determined some needed to be refurbished or replaced. We’re making the needed repairs as quickly as possible.”

The plane is the development program’s first fully equipped tanker. An interim model, a 767-2C is currently in flight tests, including a flight Monday morning over the Pacific Ocean off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Last month, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg tapped Scott Fancher, a vice president and head of Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ development programs, to get the tanker back on schedule.

In 2008, Fancher helped get the 787 program back on track.

Muilenburg also named Bob Feldmann, who oversees the 777X development program, as Fancher’s deputy for all commercial airplane development programs, including the tanker.

The tanker program manager, Tim Peters, is not being replaced, according to an internal memo announcing Fancher’s and Feldmann’s “interim” assignments.

Earlier in July, Boeing said it had to cover another $835 million in cost overruns on the KC-46 program. That is on top of $425 million last year, for a total of $1.26 billion.

Flight testing is behind schedule, but the company has already started low-rate production.

It has to start if it hopes to deliver to the U.S. Air Force 18 combat-ready tankers by August 2017, as required by the company’s development contract, industry experts say.

The KC-46 was originally supposed to fly in late 2014.

The mislabeled chemical is only the latest incident of supplier problems that have caused headaches for Boeing managers and delays to the program’s schedule.

The company is addressing supply chain oversight, and has made “significant progress,” Ramey said in an email last month.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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