On Jan. 24 flight, the Boeing and US Air Force test team completed a series of test points with the KC-46 tanker aircraft before successfully transferring 1,600 pounds of fuel to an F-16 fighter jet, according to a company statement. The KC-46 is a militarized version of the company’s 767 commercial jet.
Air Force fixed-wing assets use the boom system for aerial refueling, with a planned 1,200 gallons-per-minute transfer rate from the KC-46. Air Force helicopters and most Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, on the other hand, use the “probe-and-drogue” method of refueling. During this event, fuel passes from the tanker’s “drogue” refueling basket, which trails from the plane via a flexible hose, through a “probe,” a rigid, retractable arm placed on the receiver aircraft’s nose or fuselage.
The tests show the KC-46 program is back on track after several setbacks in 2015. The test plane successfully completed first flight in September after it was initially planned for 2014.
The Air Force is planning to buy 179 KC-46s in total to recapitalize its aging tanker fleet. According to the contract terms, Boeing must deliver 18 ready-to-go tankers by August 2017.
KC-46 General characteristics
Crew: 3 (2 pilots, 1 boom operator) basic crew; 15 permanent seats for additional/optional air crew members, including aeromedical evacuation crew members
Capacity: seating for up to 114 people, 18 463L pallets, or 58 patients (24 litters, 34 ambulatory)
Payload: 65,000 lb (29,500 kg)
Length: 165 ft 6 in (50.5 m)
Wingspan: 157 ft 8 in (48.1 m)
Height: 52 ft 1 in (15.9 m)
Empty weight: 181,610 lb (82,377 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 415,000 lb (188,240 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan, 63,300 lbf (282 kN) each
Fuel Capacity: 212,299 lb (96,297 kg)
Maximum Transfer Fuel Load: 207,672 lb (94,198 kg)
Maximum speed: Mach 0.86 (650 mph, 1046 km/h)
Cruise speed: Mach 0.80 (530 mph, 851 km/h)
Range: 6,385 nmi (12,200 km) ; global with in flight refueling
Service ceiling: 40,100 ft (12,200 m)