Boeing's Troubled New KC-46 Pegasus Tanker Just Flew Across The Pacific Ocean To Japan

Just as yet another target delivery date may be emerging, the KC-46 has hopped across the Pacific to visit its first export customer.

John D. Parker/Boeing

Boeing's KC-46 Pegasus tanker has traveled along a surprisingly rocky developmental road. Over budget and behind schedule, with multiple promised delivery dates come and gone, the latest just this month, exactly when the first jets would be delivered to the USAF's McConnell AFB has been, for lack of a better term, up in the air. Now it appears that Boeing has executed a test flight mission that is sure to increase confidence in the new aerial refueling and transport plane, flying from Edwards AFB in Southern California to Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, and on to Yokota Air Base located on the outskirts of Toyko. In other words, this was an end-to-end trip across the Pacific. To my knowledge, this is by far the farthest a KC-46 has yet to venture. In fact, I don't think that one has even left North America before.

Of course, Japan is not just a major ally of the United States and home to thousands of American servicemen and hundreds of the Pentagon's aircraft, but the country's Ministry of Defense is also a KC-46 customer. Japan finalized an order for a single example earlier this year, making them the first export customer for the type. Japan already operates a handful of KC-767s which are similar to the KC-46 in that they too are based on the 767 airframe, but the KC-767 is a far less customized variant of the 767 than the KC-46A.  

With that in mind, this trip will likely kill two birds with one stone, acting as a landmark trans-Pacific flight for the KC-46 in general, while also being the first time Japan gets to see their new plane on their own soil.

The big question still remains—when will the KC-46A actually be delivered to the USAF? Speculation has been running rampant within the aerospace reporting community, but a contract announcement today for event services—porta-poddies, trash services and the like—at McConnell AFB on November 16th, 2018 has pointed to the real likelihood that the long-awaited date is not too far off in the future. 

As we noted earlier, after previous delays, Boeing had ardently promised that the first KC-46s would be delivered to the USAF this month, but even as the aircraft was receiving its final FAA certifications, major technological deficiencies with the aircraft remained unresolved. Then, on September 17th, it was discovered that additional deficiencies had been identified, all but sinking the chances that the tanker would be in the USAF's hands by about this time. 

Boeing

It is possible that the USAF could just overlook these issues and accept the aircraft anyways with a guarantee from Boeing that the issues will get fixed, but we don't know if this is now the case or not.

Still, flying the KC-46 across the Pacific is sure to inspire trust in the aircraft and bring some much needed good press for the beleaguered program. 

Update: 12:30am PDT—

Photos of the KC-46's historic arrival:

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com