Andy Bronson / The Herald A KC-46 Pegasus tanker waits to takes its first flight at Paine Field on Sept. 25, 2015.

Production on Boeing’s KC-46 program already a year behind

EVERETT — Boeing is adding a sixth test aircraft to avoid further delays to its new aerial refueling tanker program. A sixth test airplane is slated to start flying by late April, a company official said.

The company’s Everett-based KC-46 program is already a year behind schedule and is at risk of slipping further, according to a recent federal report.

Boeing’s current plan to start delivering KC-46 tankers in September requires the company to complete remaining tests twice as fast as the current pace and deliver airplanes faster than previously planned, according to a Government Accountability Office, or GAO, report from late March.

Also, the Air Force and Boeing are negotiating changes to their contract. Boeing could have to cover the Air Force’s additional costs caused by the late deliveries, according to the report.

The company already has covered about $1.5 billion in cost overruns on the development program so far, including $243 million before taxes announced in April 2016.

While the aerospace giant has spent more than anticipated to develop a military tanker based on its popular 767 commercial jet, the overall cost to taxpayers has steadily declined since Boeing won the Air Force contract in 2011. The deal to develop and deliver 179 tankers was expected to cost $51.7 billion in 2011. That has dropped 14 percent to $44.4 billion this year, according to the report.

The contract includes a fixed-price deal worth $4.9 billion for developing a KC-46 tanker with the ability to handle multiple combat and support missions, and options for the U.S. military to buy production versions of the tanker. The Air Force ordered the KC-46 to upgrade its aging tanker fleet, which largely consists of 1950s-era KC-135 tankers.

Boeing agreed to deliver the first batch of 18 combat-ready airplanes by August 2017. Production and design problems have delayed development. The company plans to start delivering three tankers a month in September 2017. Complete delivery of the first batch would be by February 2018, the company says.

“We’re continuing to build aircraft on pace in the factory and currently have more than 20 aircraft in the production flow,” which Boeing streamlined last year to increase output, company spokesman Chick Ramey said.

However, it will take several more months to deliver refueling pods hung on the tankers’ wings. The pods can extend a hose for an aircraft needing to take on fuel in flight. With a pod attached to each wing, the KC-46 can refuel two aircraft at a time. It also has a hose and boom — essentially a giant straw — that can extend from its fuselage.

The wing pods will not be delivered until October 2018, according to the GAO report.

The test airplanes are meeting or beating the Air Force’s performance requirements so far, according to the report and a Boeing spokesman.

The KC-46s are consuming less fuel than expected, and so far have needed less maintenance work than anticipated. Boeing expects that even after the test planes add flight hours, the aircraft will still need less replacement parts and other maintenance than as required by the military, according to the report.

“Regarding flight test, we continue to make steady progress,” Ramey said.

Boeing believes the GAO is overestimating how long finishing tests will take, he said.

The company and Air Force are looking to eliminate unnecessary tests or rearrange test schedules to move things along more quickly.

“The test team expects to be much more efficient during the second half of testing now that the design has stabilized,” Ramey said. “We’re also shortly going to be adding a sixth aircraft to the flight test program, which will help complete additional ground and flight” tests.

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

Talk to us

More in Local News

Local COVID-19 cases might have peaked, health official says

“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Chris Spitters of the Snohomish Health District.

Community Transit cuts routes further as ridership plummets

Some routes had zero passengers for days, and a dozen employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

Habib backs Liias to succeed him as lieutenant governor

The state senator picks up key endorsement as Congressman Heck considers entering the race

1.2 million students won’t return to classrooms anytime soon

The governor has extended a statewide closure through June 19 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 claims Kona Kitchen’s matriarch and her husband

Liz Mar was beloved for her hospitality and graciousness at the Hawaiian restaurant in Lynnwood.

COVID-19 and cloth face covers

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Lynnwood settles with man who was jailed over stolen coffee

The city paid $20,000 to the legally deaf man, who claimed he was wrongfully imprisoned and beaten.

Stave off stay-at-home boredom and go for a drive

With the roads so empty and few entertainment options outside the house, it’s time for a joyride.

2 Everett postal workers have tested positive for COVID-19

There’s no evidence the virus can spread through the mail. But delivery services are taking precautions.

Most Read