EVERETT, Wash. — Boeing [BA] has delivered the first two KC-46A Pegasus aerial refuelers to the Air Force, just days after the delivery approval was signed for the second aircraft.

Boeing Defense, Security and Space President and CEO Leanne Caret announced the second aircraft delivery at a Jan. 24 ceremony at the company’s Everett Delivery Center.

Boeing’s KC-46 was on display Jan. 24 at the company’s Everett Delivery Center. (Photo: Vivienne Machi / Staff)

“I am delighted to be with you all today to celebrate the delivery of the first KC-46 tanker,” she told the audience of hundreds of Boeing employees, Air Force personnel and other stakeholders Thursday. “Wait a minute. … I think I had that wrong. I believe I am delivering two KC-46 aircraft to the United States Air Force!”

The Air Force signed off on the second aircraft delivery Jan. 22, Ann Stefanek, service chief of media operations, confirmed in a Jan. 25 email. The two tankers took off within minutes of each other on a frigid Friday morning from the Boeing Everett Delivery Center, bound for McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas.

The fly-off heralded a much-anticipated turning point in the decades-old program, for which Boeing first won a contract in 2011.

The Air Force formally accepted the KC-46A for deliveries Jan. 10, nearly two years behind schedule (Defense Daily, Jan. 10). The next two KC-46 aircraft to be delivered will be sent to McConnell as well, while the following four aircraft will go to Altus AFB, Oklahoma by the end of February, Boeing officials said. Pease Air National Guard Station in New Hampshire and Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, have also already been selected as future KC-46 basing locations.

The original required assets available contract between the Air Force and Boeing called for the company to deliver 18 aircraft by August 2017, but was delayed due to multiple technical issues and schedule slippages that have cost the company billions of dollars. An October 2018 delivery deadline was also missed due to multiple technical issues, two of which – involving the remote vision system and the aerial refueling boom – must still be resolved.

The service and Boeing have laid out a path forward to fix those outstanding issues as the aircraft moves into operational testing and evaluation, officials have said. The Air Force plans to accept about three tankers per month going forward, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters after the ceremony Thursday.

“There are things about this aircraft we’re really keen to get the hands of our airmen,” she said.

The Air Force may accept more than three in the immediate future to make up for lost time, she noted.

“We expect a rate of about three a month, so now it’s just a matter of accepting those,” Wilson said. “We expect for the aircraft that are going to Pease, for example, that those will be on time so they’ll make up some of the schedule slip … since October.”

Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and general manager, was confident that the company would deliver 18 jets in 2019 due to a “nice, steady flow of production,” he told reporters Thursday.

“I would expect our cadence to be roughly three jets per month … first few months, maybe a little bit more,” he said, adding that the company could deliver up to 36 aircraft at that rate in the first year.

Boeing is currently on contract to deliver 52 aircraft to the Air Force, and has about one dozen jets that are fully complete and ready for delivery, Gibbons said. The Air Force has indicated a desire to procure up to 179 new tanker aircraft to replace its aging KC-135 fleet.