Air Force's KC-46A Refueling Tanker Makes First Flight

A KC-46 refuels an F/A-18 Hornet in flight.
A KC-46 refuels an F/A-18 Hornet in flight.

The U.S. Air Force's KC-46A refueling tanker made by Boeing Co. on Friday made its first flight in a historic milestone for the program that came after repeated delays.

"History in the making," Boeing employee Jerry Pham tweeted while sharing a picture showing the aircraft taking off near Seattle. "The KC-46 Pegasus, the future of aerial refueling, has made its first flight."

Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, earlier this summer said the first test flight of the new refueling tanker, known as Pegasus and based on the 767 twin-engine commercial airliner, would be delayed until late September or early October. The event was previously scheduled for the spring.

Even Mother Nature didn't want to cooperate on Friday, as rainy weather delayed the flight by a few hours.

The Air Force plans to spend $49 billion to develop and build 149 of the planes to replace its aging fleet of KC-135s, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing forecasts an $80 billion global market for the new tankers, according to Trading Alpha.

The Chicago-based company plans to deliver the first 18 KC-46As to the service by August 2017 despite a recent string of technical challenges on the program.

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The plane's fuel system is being fixed after workers mistakenly loaded a mislabeled chemical into it, among other problems -- work that’s expected to cost more than $800 million, according to The Oklahoman, the largest daily newspaper in Oklahoma, one of the first three states where the airplane will be based.

The Air Force in 2013 selected as preferred bases for the aircraft Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.

In addition those related to the fuel system, wiring and software issues have also contributed to cost overruns totaling more than $400 million. The cost and schedule changes have attracted the scrutiny of lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I am concerned that the recent problems with the tanker modernization program could prevent the Department of Defense from delivering this critical capability to our warfighters as promised and on schedule," he wrote in a recent letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

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