The US Air Force weighs penalties for Boeing’s KC-46 delays

The US Air Force is weighing what penalties it should apply to Boeing for the delay of the KC-46 program. Meanwhile, Boieng has abandoned efforts to fix a problem with the refueling boom using software and will instead modify the boom itself.

A KC-46A in the first refueling test. Image copyright: Boeing

The penalties will be applied to Boeing because the manufacturer did not respect the August deadline for the delivery of 18 KC-46A tankers.

A week ago, after a review of the schedule with Boeing, the US Air Force announced that the first delivery will happen five months late and that they won’t be operational until nine months after that.

The new refueling tankers will be able to refuel aircraft in two ways: from a rigid boom that extends from the fuselage or from a flexible hose released under the fuselage.

However the first aircraft will not be able to refuel from similar hoses attached to pods on each wing.  This capability, which allows two fighter jets to be refueled simultaneously, won’t be added until October 2018.

Boeing attributed the delays to “ongoing complexities associated with qualification and certification” of the aircraft’s refueling system, as well as the time needed to retrofit changes to the tankers already built.

One of the problems is that when the tanker connects to a large aircraft such as the C-17, unacceptable stress loads are supplies along the axis of the boom. To solve this huge problem, Boeing had been testing a software fix that attempted to better synchronize the in-flight movement of the tanker relative to the receiving aircraft. 

Boeing has now decided that a hardware fix is needed because a software fix didn’t fix the problem.

It’s unclear what compensation the Pentagon will ask for, because the contract with Boeing “does not contain pre-defined penalties for missing schedule deadlines”.

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