KC-46 Banned From Carrying Cargo, Passengers Due to Major New Deficiency

McConnell’s first KC-46A Pegasus lands on the flightline Jan. 25, 2019, at McConnell AFB, Kansas. The Air Force recently issued a Category 1 deficiency for the tanker, restricting the Pegasus from carrying cargo or passengers. Air Force photo by A1C Michaela R. Slanchik.

FAIRCHILD AFB, Wash.—The Air Force will not allow its new tanker to carry personnel or cargo after several incidents in which cargo locks broke free during flight, prompting the service to issue another Category 1 deficiency for the troubled aircraft.

Air Mobility Command, working with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and the KC-46 System Program Office, recently issued a Flight Crew Information File restricting the Pegasus from carrying cargo or passengers, AMC spokesman Col. Damien Pickart said in a release.

The restriction comes as AMC kicks off its largest-ever exercise here at Fairchild AFB, Wash., which includes all of its other refuelers and airlift aircraft while the KC-46 remains on the sideline.

The restriction was issued “following the discovery of cargo restraint devices coming unlocked during recent operational test and evaluation flight. These floor restraints prevent cargo and passenger pallets from shifting during flight, which might endanger the aircrew and aircraft,” Pickart said.

AMC is working with Boeing to find a solution to the issue, and “the Air Force considers the safety of its airmen and aircraft a top priority,” he added.

In a statement, Boeing said it has been notified of the problem, and the company is working with the Air Force to determine a root cause. “The safety of the KC-46 aircraft and crew is our top priority,” the company said. “Once a root cause is identified, the tanker team will implement any required actions as quickly as possible.”

Defense News first reported the issue Sept. 11.

This is now the fourth Category 1 deficiency for the KC-46, following other problems with the aircraft’s boom and remote vision system. Category 1 deficiencies are “those which may cause death or severe injury; may cause loss or major damage to a weapon system; critically restricts the combat readiness capabilities of the using organization; or results in a production line stoppage,” Pickart said.

Reports on the deficiencies “are generated when a risk is identified that jeopardizes life or critical assets,” he said. During several flights, the cargo restraint locks malfunctioned even though they had been fully installed, locked, and thoroughly inspected, with additional routine inspections during flight.

“No cargo or equipment moved and there was no specific risk to the aircraft or crew,” Pickart said.

AMC did not detail how the restrictions have impacted operations at the three bases that have received the tankers so far—McConnell AFB, Kan.; Pease ANGB, N.H.; and Altus AFB, Okla.

“The restriction impacts our ability to successfully conduct ongoing pre-Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation flights, which determine the aircraft’s ability to effectively conduct its core missions including refueling, cargo and passenger airlift, and aeromedical evacuation,” Pickart said.

Boeing has contractually delivered 19 aircraft, 18 of which have flown to Air Force bases, according to the company.

The KC-46 is missing from Mobility Guardian, in which it was expected to participate alongside the KC-10, KC-135, C-17, C-130, and C-5. Lt. Col. Joseph Monaco, the exercise’s director, told Air Force Magazine that Pegasus test delays prompted AMC to keep the tanker out of its premier training event.

The Air Force had already decided to keep the KC-46 from flying in the exercise when the restraint issue was discovered.