The U.S. Air Force is frustrated with Boeing over delays in getting a new tanker aircraft into America's arsenal. The military expected the first KC-46 Pegasus tanker months ago, but the planes are still in Washington state.
Boeing executives invited journalists to Paine Field in Everett Thursday to talk about the delays and how the company is trying to overcome them.
“I am totally in line with them in terms of their sense of frustration, we have it ourselves,” said Leanne Caret, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security.
The KC-46 is a very important aircraft for Boeing and is perhaps the most important military plane the company is working on at the moment. The tankers will eventually be used to refuel other aircraft mid-air during critical missions.
The government contracted Boeing to build 34 of them, and there are long-term plans to buy 179.
The Air Force hoped to have some in its fleet by now, but the first batch of KC-46s are not quite ready for delivery.
During a March hearing, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told members of Congress that Boeing was overly optimistic in its schedule and seems to be more focused on commercial business than its Air Force obligations.
"We have asked them to put their ‘A team’ on this,” Wilson said.
“I can assure you from the highest levels of the company, from the chairman to the technician on the floor, this is one team, one fight, and we're doing it in partnership with the U.S. Air Force,” Caret said Thursday.
The KC-46 is dramatically more advanced than the tanker its replacing. In addition to fuel, it can carry cargo, passengers, and patients. It can resist chemical and biological attacks and is packed with technology.
But Boeing has had problems with the redesigned aerial refueling system, which is quite different from an older version. The company says it’s working to resolve those issues and hopes to have it all fixed later this year.
“We have continued to put the full focus and energy of the entire company on this program,” Caret said.
There are now 32 KC-46 jets in various stages of assembly. Six are in flight testing. Four are nearly ready for delivery.
Boeing says it plans to deliver tankers to the government by the end of 2018, but executives on Thursday wouldn't commit to a date.