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First 767-2C/KC-46A tanker coming together

The first 767-2C to be adapted into a KC-46A for the U.S. Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker program is starting to look like a real aircraft following major wing-body join 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 USAF 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.

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VH001 in 40-32 (Boeing)

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 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 says the first 767-2C “looks like an airplane” and is currently beginning systems installation.

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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 be an amended type certificate for a 767-2C “provisioned freighter” without the aerial refueling system and associated military avionics planned for the tanker. Boeing will then apply for a supplemental type certificate (STC) for a fully equipped KC-46A. Mission systems will be installed at a separate ‘in-line’ production site at Paine Field similar to the procedure adopted for completion of the 737-based P-8 maritime patrol variant at Boeing Field.

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