After successfully delivering 14 KC-46A tankers to the US Air Force last year, Boeing has bagged another order to supply a dozen more aircraft for an estimated cost of $1.7 billion.
According to a press release by the Department of Defense, the company has been awarded a contract to go ahead with the Lot 6 production of the KC-46 aircraft, bringing the total numbers ordered to 79.
Lot 1 saw the production of seven tankers, 12 in Lot 2, 15 in Lot 3, 18 in Lot 4, and 15 in lot 5. A total of 42 aircraft have already been delivered to the USAF. The Lot 6 production is expected to be completed by April 30, 2023.
Developed and manufactured by Boeing for the US Air Force’s KC-X tanker competition, the KC-46A is an aerial refueling and strategic military transport aircraft based on the company’s well-known 767 jet airliner. Designated as ‘Pegasus’, the aircraft is intended to replace the KC-135 Stratotankers in American service.
According to the KC-X program considerations, the US Air Force intends to procure 179 Pegasus aircraft by 2027. The aircraft made its first flight in September 2015.
The flight deck has room for a crew of four with a forward crew compartment with seats for 15 crew members and in the rear fuselage either palletized passenger seating for 58 or 18 pallets in cargo configuration.
The rear compartment can also be used in an aero-medical configuration for 54 patients (24 on litters).
Aerial refueling tankers are important for the US Air Force due to their global presence and operational needs. American aircraft usually fly on long-range supply and strike missions.
The US is the largest user of tanker aircraft such as the KC-10 Extender, KC-46A Pegasus, KC-135 Stratotanker, and the KC-130 of the US Navy.
Because the receiver aircraft can be topped up with extra fuel in the air, mid-air refueling can allow a take-off with a greater payload which could be weapons, cargo, or personnel: the maximum takeoff weight is maintained by carrying less fuel and topping up once airborne.
Alternatively, a shorter take-off roll can be achieved because take-off can be at a lighter weight before refueling once airborne. Aerial refueling has also been considered as a means to reduce fuel consumption on long-distance flights greater than 3,000 nautical miles (5,600 km; 3,500 mi).
Potential fuel savings in the range of 35–40% have been estimated for long-haul flights (including the fuel used during the tanker missions).