The KC-46 program completed its final Milestone C-required flight test July 15 with the successful refueling of an A-10, the Air Force announced Tuesday evening. The tanker unloaded 1,500 pounds of fuel during the test. The hook-up was the final of six refuelings required before the service could seek approval from Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall to award a contract for the first two production lots, totaling 19 aircraft. “Our joint team’s tireless efforts are paying off, preparing us for the next step of this critical need to our warfighter,” said Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, the Air Force’s program executive officer for tankers, according to the release. Refueling trials were delayed after the KC-46’s boom delivery system generated “higher-than-expected boom axial loads” during early test trials, but a hardware fix—the installment of hydraulic pressure relief valves—was successfully tested with an F-16 on July 8. Kendall’s decision to begin low-rate, initial production is expected in August, according to the release. Because of the testing delays, Boeing is expected to miss the initial August 2017 deadline to deliver 18 KC-46A tankers and now plans to deliver the 18th aircraft in January 2018. So far, the program has completed more than 900 flight hours with five aircraft, a Boeing spokesman told Air Force Magazine by email.
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.