In mid-November, Boeing officials conducted the first simulated 767-2C flight, using actual displays and flight controls in SIL 0, says Ann Berner, KC-46 mission control test and integration leader. It is only one of many tests to come, but it is an incremental step forward for the program, she notes.
Boeing has also made headway on its SIL 2 E Cab, a mock-up of a KC-46 cockpit that will be used for testing human factors for the crew. The -2C software will begin operation in the E Cab in April, says Paul Lambertson, who handles flight deck crew operations for test and evaluation.
The remaining SIL will be used to test KC-46-specific avionics and software. Boeing is also building a wet-fuels lab, which will include the aircraft's actual fuel system hardware (including a boom). A separate lab will demonstrate the covert lighting needed to support special-mission aircraft.
Meanwhile, boom assembly began here in October. Boeing plans to take a year or more to construct the first KC-46 boom, a fly-by-wire version of the KC-10 boom design, to allow overseers to perfect the fabrication process, says Rick Miller, boom assembly facility leader. This unit will eventually be used in the wet-fuels lab for testing late next year and will be a Boeing-owned asset. Modern manufacturing techniques to improve parts availability are being added to the line.
KC-46s will eventually be built at a rate of 12-15 per year.
The first 767-2C flight is planned for mid-2014, with the maiden KC-46 flight to follow in early 2015.
Boeing officials say they are confident they can meet the aggressive schedule because of the unprecedented integration of development and testing work between its military and civil aviation divisions. This marriage was most recently tested in developing the 737-based U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.
The KC-46 program is expanding on lessons from the P-8, whose development program is 97% complete. One is to certify as many parts as possible as compliant with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as early as possible to avoid the trouble and cost of restricted items. This was done later in the P-8 effort, forcing officials to needlessly oversee parts that were not out of compliance, says Carl Lang, a P-8 program official. ITAR-restricted parts require special handling and are accessible only to approved personnel.
Air Force officials are refining a new cost estimate in accordance with Pentagon regulations for annual updates; a new figure was not provided.
Though the contract structure appears to be driving a hearty and potentially fruitful risk-reduction effort by Boeing, it could unravel if Congress does not strike a budget deal to head off severe mandated cuts to the defense budget by Jan. 1. If the so-called sequestration process is not avoided with a debt-reduction plan, the Pentagon will have to break many of its contracts. In the case of the KC-46, the government could lose its favorable contract conditions because it would have to renegotiate terms with Boeing.