The Boeing Aircraft Company has not been having an easy time during the past twelve months and has drawn much undesired attention to itself because of the Boeing 737MAX accidents which
have claimed many lives. This has resulted in the grounding of all operational B737MAX aircraft until an acceptable solution is found before the U.S. aviation authorities give their green light
for them to take to the air again.
Now the U.S. plane maker’s problems are aggravated by a ban of their KC-46A jetliner caused by grave technical deficiencies.
U.S. Air force has a large transporter requirement
Not so well known in civil aviation circles, but essential for the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) combat readiness is the KC-46A Pegasus inflight tanker / cargo transport aircraft.
The KC-46A is derived from the Boeing 767 aircraft and was chosen in 2011 by the USAF as the future replacement for the aging KC-135 Stratotankers which had served the military for many years. In comparison to the KC-135 aircraft, the new design for the KC-46A, using the B767 airframe, was based on Boeing delivering an aircraft which would not only serve as an inflight tanker, but which also could be configured to carry passengers or cargo on the main deck.
The B767 civil freighter with an average payload of 52 tons has proven its worth over the past years. Originally designed as a passenger aircraft, many have been converted into freighters and Boeing also opened up a B767F production line to meet demand for the freighter from operators such as DHL, FedEX and Amazon Prime.
Because of its versatility in that the KC-46A can be used either as tanker or cargo / passenger aircraft, the USAF has ordered almost 180 of the type to cover future operational needs. The first KC-46A tanker version was delivered to the USAF in January of this year. In the meantime, eighteen of the type have been delivered to various USAF Refueling Units across the country.
KC-46A barred from cargo operations
In mid-September it was reported from the U.S. that the USAF has temporarily banned the KC-46A from transporting cargo or passengers. The ban results from incidents which have been reported on a test flight which was carried out with cargo on the main deck and whereby the restraint locks holding the pallets in position, for no apparent reason opened themselves leaving the cargo loads unrestrained. The aircraft in question was on a routine training mission involving various takeoff and landing sectors.
The USAF report that locks disengaged themselves inflight and this was noticed by the crew. Prior to departing on each leg of the mission, the aircrew rechecked the locks and made sure they were in locked-down mode. Despite this, the unlock sequence occurred again inflight.
No more cargo transports until further notice
If all restraints had become unlocked together, then the cargo load would most probably have moved aft, resulting in an out-of-balance situation and a possible disaster. The Air Force has issued what they term as a Category 1 Deficiency Report and have instructed that until Boeing finds a solution for the problem, there will be no cargo carried on the main deck until further notice.
This is not an ideal situation for the USAF who have been banking on using the KC-46A to regularly carry cargo and passengers on missions, thereby saving the cost of having to use other transporters.
Boeing, along with the cargo restraint manufacturer, Ancara Cargo are feverishly looking for a solution, which it seems at the present time not so easy.
John Mc Donagh
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