WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s newest tanker, the KC-46A, wrapped up electromagnetic testing, putting Boeing one step closer to delivering the first aircraft, the company said Thursday.
The tests — which took place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and Edwards Air Force Base, California — assessed whether the aircraft could safely operate when confronted by the electromagnetic fields generated by equipment like radar, Boeing said in a statement.
“The KC-46 tanker is protected by various hardening and shielding technologies designed into the aircraft to negate any effects on the aircraft,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46 vice president and program manager. “This successful effort retires one of the key risks on the program.”
During indoor tests at Patuxent River, the second low-rate initial production aircraft was placed on a pad and subjected to electromagnetic pulses from a large coil. Boeing also conducted outdoor tests that simulated the effects of electromagnetic activity on the plane while it was in flight.
Boeing spokesman Charles Ramey confirmed that both the aircraft and wing air refueling pods had completed electromagnetic tests.
In a report released in March, the Government Accountability Office pegged the tests as one of the two key risk factors that could keep Boeing from meeting its delivery goals — including delivering the first KC-46A to the U.S. Air Force this year and 18 tankers and nine refueling pods by the October 2018 deadline.
The GAO report stated that electromagnetic tests were scheduled for May 2017 but faced the risk of being delayed, which could further affect the pace of aircraft deliveries. The U.S. Air Force was not immediately able to comment on whether the schedule had been adjusted to accommodate later electromagnetic testing or whether the events constituted a delay.
Ramey stated that the timing of the electromagnetic tests would not push back other key milestones and that the company still intends to deliver the first KC-46A this year.
In June, the U.S. Air Force indicated it believed that the delivery wouldn’t occur until late spring 2018.
The service listed the tanker’s upcoming airworthiness certifications — which must be conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration, the government’s primary aerospace regulatory agency — and the remainder of its flight test program as the major factors slowing the program’s progress but added that “once Boeing receives the remaining design approvals from the FAA, [we] expect testing to proceed on a faster pace.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.