While the KC-46A had already been investigated for defects in its refueling cameras, a new comprehensive report points to other defects. These all concern the cargo-carrying capacity of the Pegasus; non-compliant load guidance system, problems with the system allowing the calculation of the aircraft's weight and balance point, etc.
Some time ago, U.S. airmen had noticed that the cameras allowing the refueling operator to no longer see the aircraft being refueled during certain situations. The KC-46A was then the subject of much criticism. New cameras have been developed (related article), taking the heat off this aircraft: a first test flight is planned for late FY2023 (4QFY23) and a first operational test flight for FY2024.
However, with the recent release of the DOT&E (Director, Operational Test and Evaluation) annual report, the KC-46A has come back under fire. The DOT&E confirms that the procedures in place to avoid camera-blinding situations are correct. On the other hand, it points to significant new problems with the cargo transport:
- Complex, unorganized cargo loading guidance that does not conform to the U.S. Armed Forces transportation system
- Non-standard cargo limitations, causing crew confusion and requiring post-loading inspections
- Inability to load some cargo forward as a result of cargo net restrictions
- Problems with the Automated Performance Tool (APT) system used to calculate the aircraft's weight and its balance point. This therefore leads to an increase in workload for personnel (complex calculations) introducing potential human error.
These defects have been classified as "Category I", urgent defects. However, a USAF spokesman reportedly announced that these defects were known and have been classified at a lower level of dangerousness; "Category II." However, he did not explain whether this change is due to a revision of the report or the implementation of solutions regarding these problems.
It should be noted that these defects do not affect the ability to refuel other aircraft and the USAF remains fully confident in this tanker. In fact, this January 30, Boeing announced that it has received a contract from the US Air Force (USAF). The contract is for Lot 9 of the KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft: for $2.3 billion, Boeing will deliver 15 KC-46s to the USAF, with a final delivery in 2026. In total, the overall Boeing-USAF Pegasus contract is to allow for the eventual delivery of 128 tankers.
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