Boeing will begin production this week on the refueling boom for the KC-46, the company’s next-generation tanker. Production of the boom marks the first movement out of the design phase and into actual construction for the plane.
“It’s a big day for the KC-46 tanker program and the U.S. Air Force,” Maj. Gen. John Thompson, KC-46 program director, said in a statement. “Boeing continues to make good progress toward delivering the KC-46 Tanker on schedule.”
Maureen Dougherty, KC-46 vice president and program manager for Boeing, added that the KC-46’s boom is capable of refueling “any fixed-wing receiver aircraft anytime and on any mission.”
Boeing plans to deliver 18 of the aircraft by 2017, replacing part of the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet. Construction will begin in earnest next summer at Boeing’s facility in Everett, Wash.
Development of the KC-46 is a top priority for Air Force brass. In his first major comments after being named the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh listed the new tanker as one of three critical systems, alongside the F-35 and a new long-range bomber.
In September, Thompson warned that the Air Force’s contract with Boeing might be canceled if Congress fails to stop the sequestration cuts scheduled for January.