The KC-46, based on the same Boeing 767 operated by dozens of civilian airlines across the globe and the KC-767 (shown above) being flown by the air forces of Japan, Italy, Brazil and Columbia, will finally replace the old Boeing 707-based KC-135 Stratotanker in 2017. The new tanker's first flight, though, will probably end up being pushed back beyond its planned date in April.
Saying he was "not comfortable" about confirming the April date, Defense News reports that program director Brigadier General Duke Richardson is now aiming for a first flight at some point in the second quarter of this year.
"What I'm trying not to do is get fixated on days," Gen. Richardson said during a defense industry conference in Washington. "I feel more comfortable saying second quarter calendar 15. I feel more comfortable with that."
Now technically, the KC-46 has already taken to the skies, although that was merely an "engineering, manufacturing, [and] development configuration," Defense News reports. This would be the actual service configuration.
"As soon as we can get it up, we need to get it up," Gen. Richardson added. "We need to do what's needed so it can fly safely, but...I'm not looking for the perfect airplane. I'm looking for a safe airplane so I can get it up and start collecting the air worthiness data."
Beyond the bad news, the general said the overall program was "very healthy," DN reports. Boeing, meanwhile, told the news outlet that the KC-46 "will fly when it's ready," and that the company is working hard on it every day.
While this is a relatively mild delay, it's nevertheless somewhat troubling. The 767 on which the KC-46 is based has been flying the friendly skies since the early 1980s, while the KC-767 has been in service since 2005. While the KC-46 wasn't officially approved until 2011, the delay in putting it not only into flight, but into service, is surprising to say the least.