More Bad News for Boeing's Pegasus: Trash Inside Its New Refueling Tankers

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: ERIC PIERMONT - Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

  • The U.S. Air Force refused to take delivery of a new KC-46A tanker after debris was found in the aircraft.
  • Boeing, the maker of the KC-46A, has struggled with workers leaving debris inside the aircraft.
  • The Air Force worries that debris could cause a serious problem for the aircraft in flight, and that unwanted parts could damage the airplane and its systems.

The U.S. Air Force delayed delivery of a new KC-46A Pegasus tanker after finding trash in the new airplane's fuel tanks. The discovery was made in tankers bound for Seymour Johnson Air Base. It’s the latest in a series of incidents in which garbage has been found inside the new made tankers, potentially causing serious safety issues.

According to Air Force Times, the debris was found in the fuel tanks of one of two KC-46A tankers being delivered to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. The first of the brand new planes passed inspection but the second was discovered to have left behind after “non-standard factory rework” at Boeing. Previous incidents of debris took place on the KC-46A assembly line.

The issue first cropped up in 2019, when Air Force inspectors found numerous KC-46A tankers with trash inadvertently sealed into the airplanes. The Air Force stopped deliveries in March and then again in April of 2019. The head of the Air Force’s acquisition program, Will Roper, described the situation as “severe.” Air Force pilots refused to fly the airplanes, citing the potential dangers.

The debris has included “aluminum shavings,” hand tools, loose nuts, “rubbish,” and other items that inspectors worried could damage electrical wiring, leading to system failures in flight. The problem is mirrored on Boeing’s civilian aircraft assembly lines, where tools, rags, titanium shavings, metal nuts, tubes of sealant, a string of lights, and even a ladder were found left behind in 737 MAX aircraft.

The KC-46A is the Air Force’s first aerial refueling tanker in more than 30 years and is based on the Boeing 767 jetliner. The Pegasus can carry up to 212,299 pounds of fuel up to 65,000 pounds of cargo, or some mix of the two. The service plans to purchase at least 179 of the tankers.

The KC-46A has suffered from other problems, including issues with its fuel probe and the remote vision system that allows the crew to refuel aircraft. The KC-46A has racked up $4.6 billion in cost overruns over the life of the program. Boeing will have to swallow those overruns per the terms of the contract.

Source: Air Force Times

Update--Statement from Boeing: During Boeing’s thorough inspection process prior to delivery, some small manufacturing debris was discovered by a Boeing quality inspector. That prompted us to perform additional inspections prior to delivering the aircraft. Boeing will take all the necessary time required to deliver the highest quality aircraft to the Air Force, but we do not anticipate a significant delay. We are working with the Air Force to determine the delivery schedule.

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