Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh announced Thursday the service will name its new KC-46A tanker refueling aircraft the “Pegasus” — after the mythological winged white horse.
The decision to name the aircraft after the iconic figure in Greek mythology was announced at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. The naming announcement comes as the service is making progress on construction of the first several aircraft and preparing for the first flight of a KC-46A baseline test aircraft slated for this coming summer.
The upcoming test flight of the developmental aircraft, called a provision freighter, will begin an extensive testing process in the Air Force’s effort to replace its aging KC-135 and KC-10 tanker fleets.
The Air Force’s multi-year tanker procurement program is one of the service’s top two priorities. The average KC-135 is about 50 years old and the average KC-10 tanker is roughly 29 years old, Air Force officials said.
The first flight of an Engineering and Manufacturing Development KC-46 tanker program test aircraft, without its aerial refueling systems, will take place this year followed by the first flight of a KC-46A tanker in early 2015, Air Force officials said.
Although only a developmental sortie of a test aircraft, the upcoming flight marks a significant milestone in a long Air Force effort to build a new aerial tanker for its fleet.
The 165-foot KC-46A is being built with Pratt and Whitney engines and the ability to transport up to 212,000 pounds of fuel and 65,000 pounds of cargo. The aircraft will bring an improved ability to conduct aerial refueling missions, Air Force officials said.
The new tanker will have the ability to refuel via the probe and drogue as well as a boom and receptacle on a single mission, which means it can service both Air Force and Navy aircraft. The tanker can conduct multiple refueling missions concurrently using a drogue, or refueling mechanism on the wings, and a more standard boom and receptacle system.
Overall, the Air Force plans to acquire 179 KC-46A tankers between 2015 and 2028. Current plans call for low-rate initial production of seven aircraft in 2015, 12 aircraft in 2016 and then 15 per year between 2017 and 2027, service officials said.
The first delivery of a production aircraft to the Air Force is planned for early 2016.