According to Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times correspondent, Boeing concluded the first phase of airworthiness testing of its 767 tanker prototype on June 2, 2015. This time the plane even looked like a real KC-46 tanker, though it is not quite there yet. This first prototype plane is testing the airframe and how it flies. The second test plane, which will be a real KC-46 tanker outfitted with working aerial-refueling systems, is to fly in summer.
On Tuesday’s flight, the Boeing KC-46 tanker prototype for the first time carried a refueling boom, a rigid tube extended back from the plane’s underside that is used to pass fuel to an aircraft flying behind and below the tanker. The prototype was also fitted with wing-refueling pods, which are used to refuel aircraft with different in-flight fuel-docking systems that fly behind and to the side of the tanker.
This equipment was not wired up and was not functional. However, the flight provided data on how these external attachments affect the jet’s behavior.
After the prototype’s maiden flight in December 2014, Boeing worked on the plane for five full months before it flew again. Then it flew three test flights on successive days last week. Tuesday’s flight lasted 4.3 hours and went well, said tanker spokesperson Chick Ramey.
Boeing has a contract to deliver to the U.S. Air Force the first 18 operational KC-46 tankers in 2017. The Air Force plans to buy a total 179 tankers under a $49 billion contract.
This first test plane will now enter planned ground testing, including Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification testing of the fuel systems. After that, it will return to the air for the next phase of airworthiness testing, which will push the limits of speed and altitude and support follow-on testing. The final two test airplanes in the flight-test program are expected to fly by the end of the year, Ramey said.
Moreover, it is said in the Defense-aerospace.com that the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) successfully supported the Boeing KC-46 tanker with the most detailed, advanced weapons survivability test series ever conducted at the Weapons Survivability Lab (WSL), China Lake, California on April 7.
«Excellent tests», said KC-46 lead engineer Scott Wacker, weapons survivability expert. «These have never been done before, so I’m happy to say that we met all our objectives. I believe that we are advancing the state of the art in understanding vulnerability in aircraft». (Source: US Naval Air Systems Command)
The tests, outlined by the KC-46 Live Fire Test and Evaluation Program (LFT&E), will be used to assess KC-46, system-level survivability in high fidelity, operational environments against ballistic and advanced threats. The results provided a wide range of data instrumental in mitigating worst-case scenarios for the aircraft, which directly improves and preserves warfighting capability. «There were over 330 channels collecting raw data, 10 high speed cameras recording 10,000 to 100,000 frames per second and 30 real time video feeds», said Eric Brickson, KC-46 LFT&E engineer. «We had a very extensive list of requirements and NAWCWD met them all».
Representatives from NAWCWD, Boeing, the U.S. Air Force and the Institute for Defense Analysis were among several of the organizations and stakeholders present to witness the event at the WSL. «It was a very successful test», said Col. Chris Coombs, Air Force. «We designed these tests against the aircraft to see how it would perform, so we’d know if the people, whether they are pilots, operators or passengers, could survive on this plane under the most relevant of circumstances».
According to the KC-46 Program Office, plans call for the procurement of 179 KC-46s to replace one third of the existing aerial refueling fleet.
Primary Function: Aerial refueling and airlift
Prime Contractor: The Boeing Company
Power Plant: 2 Pratt & Whitney 4062
Thrust: 62,000 lbs/275.790 kN/28,123 kgf – Thrust per High-Bypass engine (sea-level standard day)
Wingspan: 157 feet, 8 inches (48.1 meters)
Length: 165 feet, 6 inches (50.5 meters)
Height: 52 feet, 10 inches (15.9 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 415,000 pounds (188,240 kilograms)
Maximum Landing Weight: 310,000 pounds (140,614 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 212,299 pounds (96,297 kilograms)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 207,672 pounds (94,198 kilograms)
Maximum Cargo Capacity: 65,000 pounds (29,484 kilograms)
Maximum Airspeed: 360 KCAS/0.86 M/414 mph/667 km/h
Service Ceiling: 43,100 feet/13,137 m
Maximum Distance: 8,400 miles/13,518 km
Pallet Positions: 18 pallet positions
Air Crew: 15 permanent seats for aircrew, including aeromedical evacuation aircrew
Passengers: 58 total (normal operations); up to 114 total (contingency operations)
Aeromedical Evacuation: 58 patients (24 litters/34 ambulatory) with the AE Patient Support Pallet configuration; 6 integral litters carried as part of normal aircraft configuration equipment