Pe­ga­sus to up­grade the Air Force’s tanker fleet

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - JACK MONEY Busi­ness Writer jmoney@oklahoman.com

The U.S. Air Force needs an up­dated aerial tanker that can keep its com­bat air­craft and oth­ers op­er­ated by U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines and al­lies fly­ing over bat­tle­fields across the globe.

Boe­ing Co. agreed in a con­tract it made with the Air Force in 2011 to de­liver it the KC-46A Pe­ga­sus — a prod­uct that’s re­li­able, safe to op­er­ate and af­ford­able to main­tain.

Dur­ing a re­cent tour of the Everett Mod­i­fi­ca­tion Cen­ter at Paine Field in Everett, Wash­ing­ton, re­porters were able to

see four Pe­ga­sus air­craft go­ing through a process where mil­i­tary gear and sys­tems are added. At the event, Boe­ing’s KC-46 Tanker Pro­gram Man­ager Mike Gib­bons said the air­craft ful­fills the agree­ment Boe­ing made.

Gib­bons said the air­craft “is new, more re­li­able, more eco­nomic to fly and pro­vides lots of ca­pa­bil­i­ties the Air Force doesn’t have in its fleet to­day.”

Cer­tainly, get­ting an up­dated, im­proved air tanker would help the Air Force.

Ac­cord­ing to its web­site, in­for­ma­tion last up­dated in 2014 states the ser­vice’s Air Mo­bil­ity Com­mand man­ages an in­ven­tory of 414 KC-135 Stra­totankers (based on the Boe­ing 707) the Pe­ga­sus is in­tended to par­tially re­place.

The Air Force re­ports 732 Stra­totankers were de­liv­ered to its fleet be­tween 1957 and 1965.

It also has 59 KC-10 Ex­ten­der re­fu­el­ing air­craft that are based on Boe­ing’s DC-10 that are ac­tive in its fleet. The Ex­ten­der was in­tro­duced into ser­vice in 1981.

Sim­i­lar­i­ties, dif­fer­ences

Gen­er­ally, the KC-135, the KC-10 and the KC46A Pe­ga­sus share the same mis­sion ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Of­ten re­ferred to as a fly­ing gas can, they can take on fuel from other air­craft while fly­ing and can dis­pense fuel to up to two other air­craft at a time (when prop­erly equipped with wing aerial re­fu­el­ing pods).

They all also are mul­ti­mis­sion ca­pa­ble, as they can carry pas­sen­gers, med­i­cal pa­tients and pal­let cargo.

There are some dif­fer­ences be­tween the air­craft, how­ever.

The Pe­ga­sus is more flex­i­ble as a tanker be­cause it car­ries both a cen­ter­line boom and cen­ter­line drogue re­fu­el­ing sys­tem as part of its ba­sic con­fig­u­ra­tion when it goes aloft. That means it can re­fuel Air Force, Navy, Marine and al­lied air­craft any time.

With the two older mod­els, cen­ter­line re­fu­el­ing sys­tems some­times have to be changed from one type to the other be­fore a flight, depend­ing on what types of other air­craft are sched­uled to be re­fu­eled.

Why does it mat­ter? On Air Force air­craft, fuel re­ceiv­ing re­cep­ta­cles are skin-mounted and must be ac­cessed by a probe on a tanker’s boom to take on fuel.

Navy, Marine and some al­lied air­craft, in con­trast, use their own probes to ac­cept fuel. They do so by lock­ing the air­craft’s probe into a shut­tle­cock-shaped drogue (a cu­p­like re­cep­ta­cle) on the end of a re­tractable hose pro­vided by a tanker.

An­other sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween the Pe­ga­sus and the other two air­craft in­volves how the fu­el­ing sys­tem op­er­a­tor does his or her job.

On the Stra­totanker and Ex­ten­der, the op­er­a­tor works in the tail of the air­craft to op­er­ate the boom or drogue sys­tem that con­nects it with air­craft re­ceiv­ing the fuel, view­ing the process through a win­dow.

On the Pe­ga­sus, the op­er­a­tor sits at a rear­fac­ing, mul­ti­ple screen con­sole just be­hind the cock­pit, us­ing a cam­er­abased, re­mote vi­sion sys­tem ca­pa­ble of both day and night op­er­a­tions to do the same work.

The sys­tem, which in­cludes seven cam­eras, uses tech­nol­ogy con­trac­tors pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped for space-based op­er­a­tions.

The Pe­ga­sus also car­ries a va­ri­ety of other

state-of-the-art mil­i­tary sys­tems that makes it ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing in com­bat en­vi­ron­ments.

Those in­clude pro­tec­tions against bal­lis­tic, chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and elec­tro­mag­netic pulse at­tacks.

Lessons learned

Boe­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives told re­porters they’ve learned the value of in­te­grat­ing re­quired mil­i­tary mod­i­fi­ca­tions for the Pe­ga­sus into their reg­u­lar man­u­fac­tur­ing process from an­other mil­i­tary air­craft project they are well on the way to com­plet­ing.

Boe­ing is build­ing P-8 Po­sei­don sur­face and sub­sur­face war­fare air­craft (based on its 737800 air frame) for the U.S. Navy. The com­pany has de­liv­ered 68 air­craft to the Navy, so far.

Carl Lang, Boe­ing’s deputy pro­gram man­ager for the P-8 and other mil­i­tary de­riv­a­tives of the 737, said the man­u­fac­turer worked with its sup­pli­ers to ob­tain ma­te­ri­als meet­ing the air­craft’s mil­i­tary struc­tural re­quire­ments be­fore as­sem­bly be­gins.

The skin of the air­plane fuse­lage, for ex­am­ple, is about 50 per­cent thicker than a reg­u­lar 737 when it ar­rives in Wash­ing­ton for as­sem­bly of the over­all plane.

Plus, fuse­lages des­ig­nated for the P-8 in­clude skin open­ings and beefed up frames to ac­com­mo­date the mil­i­tary add-ons that later are in­stalled by Boe­ing’s de­fense di­vi­sion be­fore the air­craft is de­liv­ered to its cus­tomer.

“The whole phi­los­o­phy is, build it once, add only value, never take value away,” Lang said. “If you had to cut a hole and rip out a wire bun­dle (in a just-built air­craft to add mil­i­tary pro­vi­sions), that de­stroys value.”

Jamie Burgess, a Boe­ing vice pres­i­dent who is the deputy man­ager for the Pe­ga­sus pro­gram, said the same phi­los­o­phy was ap­plied to the tanker’s man­u­fac­tur­ing plans.

“Prior to P-8, all com­mer­cial deriva­tive air­planes had to be cut up and mod­i­fied (af­ter ini­tial as­sem­bly) to be turned into a mil­i­tary air­craft,” Burgess said.

“By do­ing all of that pro­vi­sion­ing and mod­i­fi­ca­tions in se­quence dur­ing an ini­tial build, that saves so much money for our cus­tomers be­cause it makes the process more ef­fi­cient.”

[PHOTO BY JACK MONEY, THE OKLAHOMAN]

A KC-46A Pe­ga­sus taxis at Boe­ing Field af­ter com­plet­ing a test flight.

Mike Gib­bons

[IPROVIDED BY BOE­ING]

This cut­away di­a­gram ex­plains the KC-46A Pe­ga­sus’ ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

[PHOTO BY JACK MONEY, THE OKLAHOMAN]

The 100th P-8 Po­sei­don goes through the as­sem­bly process at Boe­ing’s man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Ren­ton, Wash. The P-8 is based on Boe­ing’s 737-800 air­frame, but has a beefier fuse­lage and other struc­tural up­grades to han­dle the mil­i­tary gear the U.S....

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