The Air Current

“Our number one goal is to make sure that we don’t deliver aircraft until they are fully capable and they will require no [modifications] after they deliver,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing’s KC-46 Vice President and General Manager. That was May 2017.

At the start of 2019, that wouldn’t be the case. The U.S. Air Force took contractual delivery Thursday morning of the first KC-46 Pegasus, the service’s long-awaited refueling tanker. It’s a major milestone for both Boeing and the Air Force after almost two decades that started with scandal, a lost contract, a protest and a messyprotracted development program.

The USAF accepted the first new tanker with an asterisk. The Pentagon is withholding 20% or $28 million of its payment on each aircraft until outstanding category one deficiencies are fixed. The first is with the aircraft’s RVS or remote vision system that gives the boom operator a 3D digital workstation2view that replaces the famous porthole in the tail of the KC-10 and KC-135 fleet for the Pegasus’s covert flying.

Related: The linchpin technology behind Boeing’s 797

The problems in the visual system come in two particular conditions: “Deep shadows cast over the receiver when you’re flying into the sun or low sun angles where the sun is reflecting off of the receiver aircraft into the camera system,” according to Boeing’s Tom Russell, Director of Satellite Systems. Russell was brought over from the company’s space division to fix the system. Boeing delivered a software tweak with the first tanker, but the Air Force said in its January 10 announcement, “We have identified, and Boeing has agreed to fix at its expense, deficiencies discovered in developmental testing of the remote vision system.” The fixes to the RVS are expected to take three to four years to implement.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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