New KC-46A tankers fresh off the assembly line were found with “loose tools” and “bits of debris” in them left behind from the manufacturing process. In response, the U.S. Air Force halted deliveries of the new KC-46A Pegasus tanker until the situation is resolved. The service accepted the first of the long-awaited tankers just last month, in January 2019.
The Seattle Times reported late last week the Air Force had discovered unwanted tools, bits of debris, and other garbage in various locations of KC-46A tankers. According to the Times, Air Force pilots at Boeing for training refused to fly the aircraft as a result, citing safety concerns. “This is a big deal," a Boeing memo was quoted as saying.
The presence of tools and debris in aircraft is a serious safety hazard. Objects can roll around in flight, shorting out electrical equipment and damaging other equipment. Tools were found in two aircraft delivered to the USAF and in eight more still at Boeing. The Seattle newspaper says the problem is the fault of mechanics working on the plane but also quality control inspectors that monitor work and ensure nothing unauthorized is left inside an aircraft section before it is closed up. The Times notes this comes as Boeing is preparing to cut up to 1,000 quality control inspector positions.
“As of this morning, we are still not accepting KC-46s and I believe this will continue for some time,” Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told Breaking Defense on Friday. Roper also stated the Air Force would inspect the planes it has already accepted.
Boeing was supposed to deliver 18 KC-46 tankers by 2017. The first KC-46A Pegasus tankers were delivered to the Air Force only last month, after a two year delay and $3 billion in cost overruns. The Air Force has already received six tankers and Boeing has roughly another 45 aircraft still in what the Times described as the “final stages of completion."
The KC-46A is a modified Boeing 767 commercial jetliner. The KC-46A can carry up to 212,299 pounds of fuel and not only refuel U.S. Air Force aircraft that use the probe refuelling system but also U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and allied aircraft that use the drogue system. Alternately, it can carry up to 65,000 pounds of cargo or act in the aeroevacuation role, transporting badly injured military personnel under the supervision of nurses and technicians. The service will buy at least 179 tankers.
Source: The Seattle Times
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