Flight testing with the KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tanker in October will help the U.S. Air Force and Boeing determine the way forward in light of three recently discovered deficiencies.
The fixed-price development program was already behind schedule and over cost, with the financial burden for overruns being borne by Boeing. Now the Air Force has identified three issues related to the aerial refueling process that require closer scrutiny and resolution prior to the aircraft’s operational use.
Two are especially worrisome—uncommanded boom extension when disconnecting from a receiver aircraft with fuel flowing, and the operator’s inability to detect when the boom misses the receiver aircraft’s receptacle and causes damage to the coating or worse.
Those problems were discovered earlier this year. But the Air Force says it also needs to gather more data on another potential issue, first noticed in late 2016, related to the aircraft’s high-frequency (HF) radios.
HF radios use the skin of the aircraft as an antenna, which sometimes causes electrical sparks and arcs. To guard against fires, the government wants to ensure those radios are incapable of transmitting during the refueling process.
None of these issues appear to be showstoppers if they can be resolved easily and cheaply. But the government program team says it needs to collect more data during testing in October and November to figure out how best to proceed.
The Air Force’s program executive officer for tankers, Brig. Gen. Donna Shipton, and Pegasus program manager Col. John Newberry say they are monitoring these issues closely and should soon know what effect they might have on cost and schedule.
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