COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.The Air Force is ready to resume deliveries of its new KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling aircraft as soon as Boeing [BA] completes the latest and most expansive sweep of foreign object debris (FOD) inspections, the service’s acquisition chief said April 9.

The service halted deliveries earlier this month for the second time in two months after FOD was discovered on the KC-46 production line (Defense Daily, April 2). In a meeting with reporters on the sidelines of the Space Foundation’s 35th annual Space Symposium here, Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper said more stringent inspection procedures have been implemented at the company’s delivery center in Everett, Washington – and that will also affect refuelers that have already been delivered.

A KC-46A tanker takes off from Boeing Field outside Seattle en route to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, Jan. 31, 2019. Photo: Boeing

When FOD was found for the second time on aircraft on the flight line in sealed compartments, the Air Force directed Boeing to open every sealed area on every aircraft, and develop a new corrective action plan.

“On Friday, I reviewed those plans with Boeing, [and] I was very satisfied that they have treated this seriously,” Roper said.  The new inspection procedures involve opening up all sealed areas and crawling into emptied fuel tanks to ensure there is no foreign object debris, he added.

“These are not insignificant inspections,” Roper noted, but Air Force acquisition leaders and Air Mobility Command Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller are satisfied with the procedures.

Boeing will require many FOD-free months before the Air Force is satisfied the issue has been resolved, he added.

The company is assuming all costs associated with the inspections, but are not required to disclose those costs to the Air Force, he said. “It’s all going to depend on how efficiently they’re able to get the airplanes off the line, open up sealed areas, drain the tanks, inspect the tanks, refuel the tanks, reseal the areas and then get back into assembly,” he said.

Roper said he expects two new aircraft to be delivered within the next two weeks, with one aircraft going to McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, and one to Altus AFB, Kansas. Seven KC-46As have been delivered since the first one took off from the Boeing Delivery Center in late January (Defense Daily, Jan. 25). Four aircraft have been delivered to McConnell, and three to Altus AFB.

Those seven aircraft will also undergo the new, more stringent inspections, Roper said.

“Planes that we have out in the field will have to go to a Boeing facility and have these significant inspections done on them,” he said. “We’re working that coordination right now.”

AMC and Boeing are working to mitigate the effect on training, he added.

Roper emphasized that Boeing has been “a responsive partner” throughout the KC-46 program. He did not anticipate that Boeing will require the added inspection procedures at its St. Louis facility for the future F-15EX production line, as many facilities’ cultures are localized.

However, “should we find FOD on other aircraft, we would follow procedures similar to this one,” he added.