The fuselage and wings for the first 767-2C to be adapted into a KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker program have been joined at Boeing’s Everett, Wash., facility.


Final body join of the first aircraft, dubbed VH001, marks a significant milestone in the $4.4 billion KC-46 engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) program, which the Air Force awarded the company in February 2011.


Under EMD, Boeing is assembling four prototype aircraft that will initially be used for flight test. All four will be delivered as part of the initial tranche of 18 combat-ready tankers contracted for delivery to the Air Force by August 2017.


Assembly of the first aircraft is taking place in Building 40-32, the same line currently producing 767-300F commercial freighters for FedEx. Boeing will continue to build these freighters, as well as a single 767-300ER passenger variant still in the backlog, alongside the 767-2Cs for the tanker program. The company currently has 44 undelivered commercial 767s in the backlog as well as the four 767-2Cs, but anticipates continued production to support deliveries of 179 KC-46s to the Air Force by 2028.


Completion of the major structures comes on schedule and places the tanker program on track for completion of all four initial test airframes by mid-2014, says Tim Peters, Boeing’s vice president for mobility, surveillance and engagement. Commenting at the recent Dubai air show, Peters said the first 767-2C “looks like an airplane” and is currently beginning systems installation.


Final body join involves connecting the major fuselage sections with the wing, horizontal stabilizer and vertical fin, as well as installation of the main landing gear. Hydraulic, pneumatic and electric systems are also installed at this point. Before moving to final assembly, the airframe will also be raised on jacks for the power and hydraulics to be activated for a test wing of the landing gear. Special provisions being added for the tanker include the modifications for the single point refueling system, electrical disconnects at the body join locations, and fitting of pre-bundled, or “axially swaged,” hydraulic lines based on a concept first developed for the F/A-18 assembly line in St. Louis.


First flight of the 767-2C, meanwhile, remains on track for June 2014, Boeing says, while first flight of the fully configured KC-46A is still set for January 2015. Based on the 767-200ER baseline design, the -2C includes a strengthened main-deck cargo floor, cargo door and freighter features, 787-based cockpit display system, auxiliary body tanks for increased fuel carriage and provisioning for the plumbing and wiring required for the refueling mission systems.


Boeing will use the four test aircraft as part of a combined effort to earn two separate certifications from the FAA, the first of which will be an amended type certificate for a 767-2C “provisioned freighter” without the aerial refueling system and associated military avionics and self-defense systems planned for the tanker. Boeing will then apply for a supplemental type certificate (STC) for a fully equipped KC-46A.


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Guy Norris