Boeing’s KC-46 tanker has faced a series of challenges, but the latest one will keep the plane out of the largest-ever exercise planned by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command (AMC). That exercise, which is expected to take place at Fairchild Air Force Base, will involve all of the Air Force’s other tankers.

The reason the Air Force has banned the tanker from carrying passengers or cargo is apparently a defective cargo locking system. The problem, which so far has only been encountered on a single plane, is that floor fasteners in the cargo hold became unlocked during flight. This could have allowed the cargo to become loose, endangering people on board. Cargo moving about the cabin could also upset the plane’s center of gravity, making its operation dangerous and putting the plane at risk for an accident.

The Air Force called this a Category I deficiency. Boeing has promised to review the cargo locking system. “The safety of the KC-46 aircraft and crew is our top priority,” said the company.

KC-46 Pegasus program had already been problematic

The USAF’s KC-46 Pegasus program has already faced several technical issues. In fact, Boeing has been forced to pay over $3 billion in cost overruns.

In addition to operating as a cargo vessel, the KC-46 is a tanker that can refuel other planes while in the air. However, it became apparent upon initial delivery that its Remote Vision System is defective, especially in some light conditions. The USAF found discrepancies between what the Remote Vision System indicates is happening and what is actually happening during refueling. Boeing will have to fix the issue at its own expense.

On top of that, there is a problem with the design of the boom. This is used as the linkup between the KC-46 and the plane it is refueling. Unfortunately, several USAF aircraft are not able to generate enough thrust to connect with the nozzle on the boom. The Air Force is paying Boeing $55.5 million to fix the design.

Moreover, deliveries of the KC-46 were suspended during 2019 because loose tools and foreign object debris were found in the planes, including within closed-off parts of the wing.

So far, no injuries have been reported from this apparent defect. That said, it is disturbing that so many problems have been reported within a relatively short period.

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