FOD Sweeps of Delivered KC-46s to be Complete Within Weeks

MSgt. Chris Hughes, 22nd Maintenance Squadron hydraulics craftsman, and SSgt. Jamie Berridy, 22nd MXS electrical environmental craftsman, watch as a KC-46A Pegasus boom extends for an acceptance inspection on Feb. 14, 2019, at McConnell AFB, Kan. Air Force photo by A1C Alan Ricker.

LE BOURGET, France — The Air Force expects to wrap up foreign object debris checks of the 11 KC-46 tankers it has already accepted within the next few weeks, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Will Roper told Air Force Magazine in an interview at the Paris Air Show.

The Air Force this year twice stopped accepting KC-46s from Boeing because of FOD found inside the aircraft, and Boeing has put in place a plan to thoroughly sweep all aircraft, including those already delivered and the ones still on the production line. Roper could not provide a specific date for when the checks will be complete, saying it could still shift based on training needs.

The service ?is flying the tankers at McConnell AFB, Kan., the KC-46 first operational base, and at Altus AFB, Okla., for training. All the delivered aircraft are safe to fly and “we’re confident in our ability to keep training with them,” Roper said.

Because there are other hardened areas that are difficult to get to, the Air Force had a choice to either put the planes down for maintenance for an extended period of time or fly them to Boeing facilities where there was the infrastructure to do the sweep more quickly. The units decided to “do the latter because they want to keep training, and minimize the time that the aircraft is down for this sweeping period,” Roper said.

Roper told reporters June 17 the debris issue has slowed delivery of the KC-46 from the planned three per month to about “one and change.” Boeing Defense CEO Leanne Caret said at the Paris Air Show the same day that the FOD issue was “unacceptable” and would not happen again.

While the aircraft on the McConnell and Altus flight lines are not limited in flying operations because of the FOD issue, the tankers are not refueling A-10s because of a deficiency in the boom system. The slower A-10 cannot connect with the boom with enough pressure, so the Warthog will not receive gas from the Pegasus until the Air Force and Boeing develop a new actuator for the system. This deficiency isn’t a big worry because the service had to make similar changes to the KC-10, Roper said.

However, issues with the KC-46’s remote vision system are a different story and are proving to be more complicated. The service expects to receive an updated system within months, which will then be measured against specific parameters the Air Force has developed to ensure it works properly. From there, it will be a “fairly significant installation,” taking three to four years, based on operational needs, to get the system installed. In the meantime, the Air Force has kicked off initial operational test and evaluation at McConnell and the tanker has so far refueled 15 different types of aircraft.