Published on September 30th, 2015 | by Jim Lee


U.S. Air Force KC-46A Tanker completes successful first flight as Boeing ramps up production of civil airliners

On 25th September, Boeing and a U.S. Air Force team, successfully completed the first flight of a KC-46A tanker aircraft, paving the way to aerial refuelling and Milestone C testing. This was the first flight of N462KC (c/n 41275), a KC-46A tanker-configured aircraft, following ongoing flights of the program’s first test aircraft, a converted Boeing 767-2LKC, N461FT, USAF Serial 11-46001. It has been flying since last year does but does not have the refuelling system installed.

During the flight of N462KC, which took off from Paine Field at 13:24 (PST) and landed four hours later at Boeing Field in Seattle, Boeing test pilots performed operational checks on the engines, flight controls and environmental systems. The flight gave them the opportunity to take the tanker to a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet (10,668 m) prior to landing. This first flight was a significant milestone for the $49 billion (around €43.75 billion) aircraft which has run into cost and scheduling issues in recent years. N462KC has also been assigned the USAF Serial 11-46002.

“This first tanker flight is a key milestone for the program and we’ll now begin free air stability tests and flight controls of the boom and wing aerial refuelling pods (WARPs) before conducting aerial refuelling tests where the KC-46 will make contact with other military aircraft down the road,” said Col. Christopher Coombs, U.S. Air Force KC-46 System program manager.

“Today’s flight reinforces that we are moving in the right direction and are on track to begin planned Milestone C testing later this year,” said Tim Peters, Boeing KC-46 tanker vice president and program manager. “This is an aerospace industry first and the culmination of a lot of hard work by the team, including Boeing, our suppliers and the U.S. Air Force” he added.

Salt Lake City Boeing Office K64512

Boeing Office in Salt Lake City

The Boeing team conducted a post-flight inspection and will calibrate instrumentation prior to the next series of flights, during which the tanker boom and WARPs systems will be deployed. Before the end of the year, the KC-46 will begin conducting aerial refuelling flights with a number of U.S. Air Force aircraft. Those flights, along with the mission systems demonstrations and a recently completed ground cargo handling test, will support the planned Milestone C decision in 2016.

As part of a contract awarded in 2011, to design and develop the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft, Boeing committed to building four test aircraft, two, N461FT and N463FT, are currently configured as 767-2Cs and two, N462KC and N464KC, as KC-46A tankers. The KC-46s will fly as fully equipped tankers through the FAA and military certification process, while the 767-2Cs enter flight test prior to receiving their upgrade to the KC-46A configuration and the addition of their aerial refuelling systems.

The program’s first test aircraft (EMD-1), N461FT, has completed more than 150 flight test hours to date since making its first flight in December 2014.

The Boeing KC-46A is a multirole tanker being built for the U.S. Air Force. It can refuel all allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refuelling procedures and can carry passengers, cargo and patients. Overall, Boeing plans to build 179 KC-46 aircraft for the U.S. Air Force.

Boeing to increase 767 production

It has also been confirmed that Boeing will increase production of the 767 by 25% in 2017 to help fill an order for 50 planes from FedEx. Reuters reported that Boeing will lift the production rate to 2.5 a month from two a month, starting in the fourth quarter of 2017. The company makes 1.5 a month currently and is due to reach two a month in the first quarter of 2016. The backlog of 767 orders reaches into the mid-2020s, and the increased production rate will result in a small increase in employees in 2017. “We are confident the market will support a long-term future for the 767,” Brad Zaback, Vice President and general manager of 767 program is quoted as saying.

Boeing Salt Lake completes 787-9 Dreamliner production expansion

On 25th September Boeing employees, Government officials and community members celebrated the completion of Boeing’s expansion projects in West Jordan (Salt Lake County, Utah) and Salt Lake City and its first 787-9 Dreamliner horizontal stabilizer manufactured from start-to-finish in Utah. In less than two years, Boeing transformed its 850,000 ft² (78,970 m²) building in West Jordan, from a vacant warehouse into a composite fabrication production centre, with 100 employees.

Components manufactured at the West Jordan site are shipped 22 miles for final assembly of the horizontal stabilizer at Boeing’s Salt Lake City airport facility where a second assembly line has recently been added.

“This is an exciting time for Boeing and our Salt Lake team,” said Larry Coughlin, Boeing Salt Lake general manager. “Our recent progress sets the stage for Boeing Salt Lake to become a major composites manufacturing centre.’’ As part of Boeing’s strategy to grow its composite hub in the Salt Lake region, the company purchased the West Jordan composite manufacturing building in 2013 and began production at the beginning of this year.

During the celebration, government officials, employees and community members were able to view the first 787-9 horizontal stabilizer completed by Boeing Salt Lake. Resembling two smaller fixed wings on the back of an airplane, the horizontal stabilizer helps provide stability in flight.

“This accomplishment took everyone’s hard work and dedication in all areas of our business,” said Mr. Coughlin. “Whether you worked directly on the horizontal stabilizer or not, you all had a part in making it happen.’’

In the past year alone, the Utah Fabrication teams have:

  • Implemented new advanced manufacturing processes designed to help employees work more safely and efficiently.
  • Delivered the first 737 MAX flight deck structure.
  • Expanded Boeing’s presence in the community through STEM and academia outreach.
  • Partnered with Industry and Government Office of Education Development (GOED) to launch the Utah Aerospace Pathways education pilot.
FedEx 767-300F Artwork

Artists impression of a FedEx Boeing 767-300F.

Boeing Salt Lake currently employs more than 760 people in three locations. Employees provide design/build and multisource integration of composite empennage products and flight deck structures, including the 787 vertical fin, the 787-9 horizontal stabilizer, Flight Deck Consoles for all models, assembled components and emergent support. Utah is also home to a Boeing defence team of approximately 250 employees in Ogden and Little Mountain.

Boeing also is ramping up output of 737s and 787s but reducing production of its bigger 747, which has suffered from slow sales. Some analysts have said Boeing will need to temporarily cut production of the 777 as it switches to a new version later in the decade, but Boeing has said it has no current plans to cut that rate.

Order update

The following is an update of Commercial airplane orders through to Orders through to 22nd September by type.

                                                             737     747      767      777      787      Total

2015 Gross Orders                              349     4         48        54        52       507

Changes                                               -28     -4         –           –           -26       -58

2015 Net Orders                                   321     –           48        54        26        449

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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