Boeing [BA] and the Air Force successfully completed Sunday the first flight of the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker test program, according to a company statement.

The aircraft, a Boeing 767-2C, took off from Paine Field, Wash., at 12:29 p.m. EST and landed three hours, 32 minutes later at Boeing Field. Boeing is building four test aircraft: two 767-2Cs and two KC-46A tankers. The 767-2Cs enter flight test as commercial freighters prior to receiving their aerial refueling systems while the KC-46s will fly as fully equipped tankers through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and military certification processes. 

Boeing's 767-2C variant takes its test flight as part of the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker program. Photo: Boeing.
Boeing’s 767-2C variant takes its first test flight as part of the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker program. Photo: Boeing.

Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said Monday during the first flight of the 767-2C, the company took the aircraft up to 26,000 feet, checked the basic integrity of the aircraft and how it handled. Boeing also exercised all the systems, she said, including engine acceleration and deceleration, autopilot flight modes and auxiliary power unit shutdowns and starts. Hutcheson did not have Tuesday the maximum speed the tanker reached during flight testing.

Hutcheson said Boeing will analyze the data from the initial flight, address issues and continue preparing the plane for the entirety of the developmental test program, which runs through mid-2016 and covers all four engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) aircraft. Next steps, she said, include the first tanker-configured flight in the “first part” of 2015 and initial air refueling operations testing with receiver aircraft, which is expected this summer, Hutcheson said.

“The focus of the flight test program is to secure FAA and military certification of the four test aircraft in support of delivering 18 initial combat-ready tankers to the Air Force by 2017,” Hutcheson said in a statement.

The three additional EMD aircraft, Hutcheson said, are in a “mature” state of build and will join the flight-test program during 2015. Boeing, she said, has a plan in place to get all of them ready for flight tests.

Following successful FAA certification, Hutcheson said the 767-2C variants will be remade into KC-46s by having their aerial refueling booms installed. The second tanker aircraft to be tested, this one in 2015, will be a KC-46 variant with a refueling boom.

The Air Force, in total, ordered 179 KC-46s in a contract worth potentially $35 billion (Defense Daily; Jan. 5, 2012). U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) chief Air Force Gen. Paul Selva recently called Boeing’s goal of tankers by 2017 “aggressive” and warned the program has little margin for error (Defense Daily, Dec. 4).