KC-46 Program Downgrades Cargo Lock Issue, Begins Retrofits

The Air Force on Dec. 18 downgraded one of the top-level problems facing the KC-46 program, lifting a three-month ban that stopped the tanker from carrying personnel and cargo as Boeing began installing new cargo locks on the aircraft.

In September, the Air Force announced it would not allow the aircraft to carry cargo and people during test and training flights after discovering defective locks. The restraints appeared to come unlocked during multiple tests.

Boeing and the Air Force tested and approved a redesigned lock that the company said has been installed onto four aircraft so far. The Air Force said the first tanker that was fixed at McConnell AFB, Kan., is again flying with a typical load, the service said in a statement. Because the new design was approved and flights resumed, the service officially closed out the “category one” deficiency.

Air Mobility Command said in November that it expects to retrofit two KC-46s per week with the approved replacement locks. That process would likely wrap up by March.

Multiple major issues remain, most notably with the aircraft’s remote vision system that service officials have said will take years to fix. Will Roper, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, told reporters Dec. 7 he’s pleased the program is making progress on the RVS, but that it is a complicated fix. The other deficiencies, including the cargo lock problem and an issue with an actuator in the refueling boom, worry the service less, he said.

“The Air Force remains committed to holding Boeing accountable to fix deficiencies in both developmental and operational test and evaluation of the KC-46A’s effectiveness, suitability, and mission capability,” the service said in a Dec. 20 statement.