Tuesday, March 31, 2015

KC-46 Tanker Tanks Progress a Few More Months

The KC-46 Pegasis tanker still needs additional time as reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The March 26, 2015 article explains how additional time is required will not impede its ultimate delivery date in 2017. In fact, the tanker was scheduled as being fully loaded by April 2015. The date now moves to Late June (probably August) 2015. This three (probably five) month time bump is not serious during this stage of development. Other developmental progressions scheduled for the KC-46 tanker continue congruently with the delayed portion of the project. The workload shifts slightly when installation and validation of systems are carefully reordered. A first time production of any prototypical and systemic installation has the two headed conditions; of where it should be according to the plan; or where it actually is during the program in its reality mode. the KC-46 program progress is in reality mode at this time and a good thing too.

System stuffing in the KC-46 will be complete by August 2015 instead of the planned April 2015 deadline, including the tricky boom installation in question. Then its go time for flying its systems testing on the first 767 KC-46 2c. Early in 2016 will be the first of the 18 KC-46 completions, as it will begin assembly during this same period. Boeing will upgrade production copies on the ground during the testing phase until it ends.  Noting testing updates and risks retirement can be applied to the completed delivery queue waiting for final readiness, It gains back some time for Boeing's original delivery date for 2017. I only assume this from Boeing's 787 program, when they built 40 to 50 787's before final configurations, risk retirements, and updates were applied while they "rested on the flight line".

This first group of KC models may rest on Everett's flight lines until testing is complete.  It took several years until further 787 completeness was enacted, through its Change Incorporation and Rework Centers. It won't take several years for the military, since the 767 airplanes and its complimentary engines are a known and solid factor. It will only take weeks from installing the remaining ongoing changes accumulated throughout the program, as it chases the continuous improvement model. Upgrades are made when solutions are determined in process. It only has to consider new military systems interfacing with well developed Boeing systems. They have its arms around that consideration at this time.


Boeing KC-46 December 28 First Flight, Boeing Photo

All this was projected and promised in a timeline by Boeing to the Military. The phase of the project has moved to installation of all new system applied to the airframe. An earlier wiring problem with the schematic did not adhere to military redundancy and survivability codes. Five different power sources intersected at one point. The main electrical power wiring needed five separate routes not a junctions at one point, in case of a damaging or a coincidental hit during combat. This problem has been corrected, as it had added additional time into the project. This reinstallation compounds the time penalty as it affects the built-in slack time needed for such occurrences during a project. The cushion it had open for dealing with other "normal" developmental problems as it occurs is gone. As the schedule reaches closer to the development cycle conclusion, all the pent up delays are pushing out the first delivery window a few months.


Boeing Video KC-46 First Flight

The parts suppliers are having issues of timely delivery for essential refueling tools, as supplier design changes are encountered coming from both the military and Boeing engineering. This rolls back the time further as they are coping with the now tightened schedule. In response Boeing has deployed its personnel to various affected parts suppliers for shoring up critical mission parts, such as the aerial boom and the wing's flexible refueling pods undergoing newly required upgrades passed through Boeing to the supplier. Eight months of delay has been absorbed through the program from waiting for its suppliers who are making the necessary changes, thus making the initial fully operational first flight targeted for later in June. The Pentagon and Boeing are hoping for an end of June date going fully operational on the initial fully equipped test Tanker.

But a rule of thumb from "Winging IT" says 60 more days past middle June is likely, considering all the identified improved parts in the pipeline, and as all military systems become compliant with Boeing systems. Full implementation is yet to be achieved at this time until all parts and programming, flows into the assembly of the first four test frames. The Tanker status is in a "normal first time airplane manufacturing phase", as it experiences issues encountered for any military venture. Nothing here is showing up as a project stopper. The pentagon and congress should be pleased at this point, and they will go after "The Tanker  Project loose ends, conducting its part with due diligence.

However, Boeing is saying and the Air Force concurs, who is working closely side by side on this first flying copy, there is enough time to meet its 2017 deadline for an on time project conclusion. The news in this case, is really an inside look at any project churning out new technology and new systems concepts. The main understanding is realised by both parties. The estimated "contingent time slack" is gone, if it is to deliver in 2017. Both Boeing and the Air Force believe any show stoppers have been dealt with while the product schedule can be maintained, as the airframe is loaded with its all the secret systems. At this point I assume those systems have been ground tested or flown on test bed aircraft long ago. It remains to test on the actual first KC-46 frame fully loaded. Then it will build the first bunch.

Having the program this far along with so few major change-orders is a good indication the purchasing concept of using a well tested commercial frame is avoiding many of the time draining problems arising from an all new frame. Airbus is still working out its kinks on the A400 multi-tasking military transport after many years. Boeing will have proven engines, wings and 787-like avionics going in its favor before delving into the plug and play schemes brought on board  for the tanker. This is no F-35 clean sheet attempt. It purports to be the best of both worlds, proven ruggedness and all new advancements. Its a perfect military requirement.