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Air Force resumes KC-46 deliveries after Boeing changes inspections

By Allen Cone
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Air Force resumes KC-46 deliveries after Boeing changes inspections
A KC-46 Pegasus refueling tanker taxis on the 97th Air Mobility Wing flightline on Monday night at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Photo by Technical Sgt. Kenneth Norman/U.S. Air Force

March 12 (UPI) -- The Air Force has resumed receiving KC-46 tankers because it passed an object debris inspection at Boeing's production facility after loose tools and other items were found inside completed airplanes.

On Monday, a new Pegasus flew to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, the U.S. Air Force said in a news release. It was the third KC-46 tanker, a reconfigured 767, delivered to the base.

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The Pegasus was delivered "following completion of Foreign Object Debris sweeps on Boeing KC-46 aircraft going through the acceptance process," Rose Riley, Air Mobility Command public affairs spokeswoman, said in the release.

She said the Air Force Service Acquisition executive and AMC commander received an "out brief" of the Defense Contract Management Agency-approved Corrective Action Plan on Monday.

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"As directed by the CAP, subsequent deliveries will occur as Boeing successfully completes each aircraft's inspections and actions assigned from today's review," she said.

Boeing plans to deliver 36 of the aircraft this year and about a dozen more are nearing completion, said Mike Gibbons, Boeing vice president.

On Feb. 28, the Air force stopped accepting the tankers after foreign objects were found in several of the aircraft, including "trash, tools, things of that nature," Will Roper, the service's assistant secretary for acquisition, told Air Force Magazine at the time.

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Boeing noted MDC had declared a level 3 state of alert -- a level four means the factory is shut down.

The military takes such contamination "very seriously," according to Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Hope Cronin. Boeing had called the problem a "big deal" in an internal memo.

The DCMA and Air Force developed 13 "remedies" for Boeing to adopt to ensure that debris is kept off the production line.

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"We have USAF pilots here for flight training and they will not fly due to the FOD issues and the current confidence they have in our product that has been discovered throughout the aircraft," factory management wrote in the Feb. 21 memo to employees on the 767 assembly line and obtained by The Seattle Times.

Training flights resumed seven days after being grounded.

"I don't want to overblow it," Roper said. "If the issue goes away and we have no cause for concern in the future, I'll just treat it as growing pains. ... If we have this issue again, then -- it's already serious -- but it will be a much more serious endeavor."

In January, the first KC-46 was flown from Boeing's facilities to McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., following scheduling and cost overruns dating to when the company was awarded the contract eight years ago.

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The KC-46 is built as an empty 767 airframe in Everett, Wash., then transferred to the south end of Paine Field called the Military Delivery Center. The jet's military systems, including the refueling and communications equipment, are installed there.

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