The Air Force’s new series of Boeing KC-46 Pegasus Tankers are still being phased into several Air Force and Air force reserve wings. However, a recent delivery of two new KC-46s destined for Seymour Johnson Air Force Base’s Air Force Reserve Command has been delayed due to foreign object debris (FOD) found inside the fuel tank during pre-acceptance inspections.
The KC-46s started gradually being phased into service in 2015, as part of a $4.9 billion fixed-price firm contract between Boeing and the Air force. The aircraft in question was part of a planned delivery for The Air Force Reserve Command’s 916th Air Refueling Wing.
While the first KC-46 was delivered and put into service with no problems, the second plane was found to have FOD inside its fuel tank during an inspection. The first plane delivered on 12 June was the first of a planned 12 KC-46A tankers to replace aging KC-135 Stratotankers.
According to an official statement, the Air Force on 15 June stated that the debris was purported to have come from a “non-standard factory rework.” This means that the debris was not present during the production line quality inspection.
Over a year ago in March of 2019, the Air Force was forced to halt KC-46 deliveries due to the previously mentioned production line quality inspections in which debris was found in the fuel tanks and caused a halt in deliveries.
A statement from the Air Force seems to indicate that both Boeing and the Air Force are working to solve the issues: “Boeing has made great strides on their production line focusing on product quality, tool control, and FOD prevention. However, debris left behind during non-standard production rework indicates we still have work to do to propagate the good culture changes from the production side to the broader Boeing enterprise.”
FOD was discovered in the delayed second tanker during the final inspection by a Boeing inspector before the aircraft would have been transferred to the Air force. The discovery of FOD in the tank instigated further detailed inspections by Boeing which has further contributed to the delay.
To date, Boeing has delivered a total of 34 KC-46 Pegasus tankers out of a currently planned 179. In addition to this recent setback, the Air Force announced earlier this month that it would delay full-rate production of the KC-46 Tanker program until the end of the fiscal year 2024 to allow for further testing of current aircraft to weed out “major deficiencies.”
Some issues include an overly stiff refuelling boom which prevents the A-10 Warthog from refuelling from the KC-46. Another issue involves the tanker’s Remote Vision System which should allow boom operators to view the outside of the tanker during refuelling operations. During this time Boeing will be held responsible for all program cost overruns as the contract is fulfilled.