May 3 (UPI) -- Boeing announced on Tuesday it now has a total of six KC-46A tanker aircraft for its testing program, pending production and eventual deliveries to the U.S. Air Force.
"Adding another tanker will help us to become even more efficient and significantly improve our ability to complete test points going forward," Jeanette Crop, Boeing KC-46A tanker test team director, said in a press release. "We are also re-configuring one of our 767-2C aircraft into a tanker, which means we soon will have four KC-46 tankers in testing."
The newest of the planes, which is the second in the initial low-rate production, had its first flight on April 26. A significant part of the testing will ensure that the tanker can stand up to electromagnetic fields -- radars and powerful radio towers are capable of scrambling aircraft electronic systems if they are not carefully shielded.
"This first flight is another important step for the KC-46 program toward verifying the aircraft's operational capabilities," said Col. John Newberry, Air Force KC-46 System program manager. "Adding this aircraft brings key capabilities to the test fleet and helps move us closer to delivering operational aircraft to the warfighter."
So far the system has completed more than 1,600 hours of flight testing, as well as more than 1,200 refueling tests with a variety of Air Force planes, including the F-16, C-17, and A-10.
Tankers play a vital role in long-range operations, refueling aircraft in midair in order to extend their range and keep them in the air longer. The KC-46 is a multirole tanker based off the civilian 767 airliner and is designed to carry passengers, cargo and patients.
Boeing is expected to build 179 KC-46 tankers for acquisition by the U.S. Air Force. They will be built in Everett, Wash.