Company Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg (left) gets a laugh on Thursday at the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett as he points out that two KC-46 Pegasus planes would be delivered to the U.S. Air Force. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Company Chairman, President and CEO Dennis Muilenburg (left) gets a laugh on Thursday at the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett as he points out that two KC-46 Pegasus planes would be delivered to the U.S. Air Force. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

For a day, troubles are forgotten as Boeing delivers tankers

The company celebrated Thursday as it handed off two KC-46 Pegasus airplanes to the Air Force.

EVERETT — Two down, 177 to go.

The Boeing Co. delivered the first KC-46 aerial-refueling tankers to the U.S. Air Force in a ceremony Thursday at the company’s assembly plant at Paine Field.

Hundreds of Boeing workers, Air Force personnel and company executives crowded the 767 factory floor to mark a major milestone in a long, complicated, often-troubled $44 billion program that eventually will deliver 179 of the planes to the Air Force.

Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said the tanker deliveries solidified Boeing as the tanker company for the Air Force and “for the world.”

Gen. Maryanne Miller, commander of the Air Force Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, accepted delivery on behalf of Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force. Wilson’s plane — “not a Boeing aircraft,” Miller noted — was delayed and the secretary didn’t arrive until the ceremony was over.

Miller thanked Boeing workers — “all the men and women who put their heart and soul into this airplane.”

“Our airmen are excited to get their hands on this plane,” Miller said.

Boeing employees view the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event from the stairs of the plane in the Boeing factory at Paine Field on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Boeing employees view the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event from the stairs of the plane in the Boeing factory at Paine Field on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, said the tanker has already logged 3,800 hours in the air and has delivered four million pounds of fuel in tests.

Boeing expects to deliver another half-dozen KC-46s to the Air Force over the next two months.

The KC-46 Pegasus, as it’s nicknamed, is based on the 767 commercial airplane platform and is assembled in Everett before being fully outfitted for military use. Besides being capable of refueling other airplanes in flight, the Pegasus is designed also to carry cargo, troops and medevac patients, depending on the need. It will replace an aging fleet of KC-135 tankers — derived from the commercial Boeing 707. Some of those planes have been in use for a half-century.

There was no mention Thursday of the tanker program’s controversial history.

The backstory includes political maneuvering, alleged corruption, hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns, technical glitches and the hue and cry of federal government officials irked by Boeing’s tardiness and a perceived focus on non-defense product lines.

Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, talks to employees and guests at the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, talks to employees and guests at the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

During a U.S. House Services Committee hearing last spring, Air Force Secretary Wilson told lawmakers: “One of our frustrations with Boeing is that they are much more focused on their commercial activity than they are in getting this right for the Air Force and getting these airplanes to the Air Force.”

The tanker is more than two years behind schedule. Deadlines have come and gone. Eighteen KC-46 tankers were to have been delivered to the Air Force by August 2017.

When technical problems surfaced, including an issue with the tanker’s refueling system — its raison d’etre — delivery deadlines were pushed back.

One of the tanker program’s technical snafus involves the refueling apparatus. A 59-foot connector, or boom, is controlled by an operator who relies on multiple cameras and sensors to guide it. A glitch in the camera system surfaced that caused the boom to miss the mark and scrape an aircraft it was refueling.

Boeing workers get in place for the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Boeing workers get in place for the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Sean Martin, head of Boeing boom testing, said Thursday that the system is usable 97 percent of the time. Martin, an Air Force veteran, defended the system.

“If I believed the vision system wasn’t working, I would stand up and say ‘this is unsafe,’ ” he said.

The problem is still being worked on.

Thursday’s event, though, focused on the accomplishment of delivering the first airplanes, with a KC-46 parked behind the dais inside the main factory in Everett.

Mike Hafer, Boeing’s senior manager for KC-46 business development., explains features of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker to reporters before the start of a delivery ceremony in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Mike Hafer, Boeing’s senior manager for KC-46 business development., explains features of the KC-46 Pegasus tanker to reporters before the start of a delivery ceremony in the Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett on Thursday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

It is an innovative aircraft. It can refuel two planes at the same time, and at night. It can carry more than 100 passengers or 56 patients or 18 cargo pallets. That’s twice the number of people and three times the cargo than the KC-135 it replaces.

The fuel tanks on the KC-46 can be removed as a unit, eliminating the need for repair crews to go inside the tanks to work on them

The plane’s fuel, hydraulics, oxygen and other systems can be serviced from the ground. That feature saves time and allows the tanker to quickly get back in the air.

It can refuel all U.S., allied and coalition military aircraft — everything from an F-16 fighter to a giant C-17 transport.

The two tankers feted Thursday are to be flown on Friday to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097. Twitter: JanicePods.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in New York. Pfizer will spend about $43 billion to buy Seagen and broaden its reach into cancer treatments, the pharmaceutical giant said Monday, March 13, 2023. (AP Photo / Mark Lennihan, File)
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to acquire Bothell-based Seagen

Pfizer announced Monday it plans to acquire Seagen in an all-cash deal for $43 billion.

Lacie Marsh-Carroll stirs wax before pouring candles in her garage at her home on March 17, 2018 in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Women business owners in Snohomish, Island counties make their mark

In honor of Women’s History Month, we spotlight three local business owners.

x
Edmonds International Women’s Day takes place Saturday

The Edmonds gathering celebrates women and diversity with this year’s theme, “EmbraceEquity.”

Owner and CEO Lacie Carroll holds a “Warr;or” candle at the Malicious Women Candle Co workspace in Snohomish, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023. The business is women run and owned. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Malicious Women Co: She turned Crock-Pot candles into a sassy venture

Lacie Marsh-Carroll is rekindling her Snohomish candle company with new designs and products.

Kelly Matthews, 36, left, Tonka, 6, center, and Nichole Matthews, 36, pose for a photo in their home in Lynnwood, Washington on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.  The twin sisters work as freelance comic book artists and illustrators. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Drawing interest: Twin sisters never gave up on making their mark

Lynnwood sisters, Kelly and Nichole Matthews, got their big break a decade ago and now draw comics full time.

Willow Mietus, 50, poses for a photo at her home in Coupeville, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Mietus bought a former Frito-Lay truck to sell her dyed yarn out of. She calls it "The Wool Wagon." (Annie Barker / The Herald)
The Wool Wagon to hit the streets of Whidbey Island

A self-described “professional yarn temptress” from Coupeville is setting up shop in a modified truck.

IonQ will open a new quantum computing manufacturing and research center at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)
Quantum computing firm IonQ to open Bothell R&D center

IonQ says quantum computing systems are key to addressing climate change, energy and transportation.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, sits in the lobby of Think Tank Cowork with his 9-year-old dog, Bruce Wayne, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Growing green mushrooms in downtown Everett

The founder of Black Forest Mushrooms plans to grow gourmet mushrooms locally, reducing their carbon footprint.

Barb Lamoureux, 78, poses for a photo at her office at 1904 Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Lamoureux, who founded Lamoureux Real Estate in 2004, is retiring after 33 years. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Barb Lamoureux, ‘North Everett’s Real Estate Agent’ retires

A longtime supporter of Housing Hope, Lamoureux helped launch the Windermere Foundation Golf Tournament.

Bothell
AGC Biologics in Bothell to produce new diabetes treatment

The contract drug manufacturer paired with drug developer Provention Bio to bring the new therapy to market.

The Walmart Store on 11400 Highway 99 on March 21, 2023 in in Everett, Washington. The retail giant will close the store on April 21, 2023. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Walmart announces Everett store on Highway 99 will close on April 21

The Arkansas-based retail giant said the 20-year-old Walmart location was “underperforming financially.”

Everett Memorial Stadium and Funko Field on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Drive to build new AquaSox ballpark gets $7.4M boost from state

The proposed Senate capital budget contains critical seed money for the city-led project likely to get matched by the House.