KC-46, a Versatile Platform

The KC-46 Pegasus is a versatile aerial refuelling platform available in the global market that is ushering in a new era of efficient in-flight refuelling of military aircraft

Issue: 12 / 2020By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By Boeing
The KC-46 offers a multi-role capability while retaining the capability to undertake aerial refuelling

The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus is a twin-engine aerial tanker developed by Boeing based on its 767 wide-body airliner also developed by the company that has been in service since July 1982. More than 1,000 of these platforms have been manufactured by the company that are flying today. The KC-46 aerial tanker was selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) in February 2011 to replace the fleet of Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, a fourengine platform that has been the only aerial tanker with the service for more than six decades now. The KC-46 is equipped with both hose-and-drogue as well as boom receptacle system, built to match international standards rendering the aerial tanker capable of delivering fuel in flight to a wide variety of aircraft ranging from combat jets to heavy transports aircraft. The KC-46 offers a flexible multi-role capability and is capable of carrying troops, cargo, medical supplies with personnel as well as any combination of the three, while retaining the capability to undertake aerial refuelling task. The KC-46 also has a fully integrated capability that enables the crew to carry out aero medical evacuation. The aircraft can be rapidly reconfigured in just two hours for any selected mission and can be made to get airborne with a notice of just ten 10 minutes from a state of ground readiness.

The need to induct modern aerial tankers into the IAF is urgent and for this requirement, the latest version of the Pegasus would be a good choice that will remain so for decades to come as it is a very reliable and economical platform

KC-46 Pegasus Quick Facts

The KC-46 Pegasus has:
• Worldwide operations in all airspace
• 15-inch (38.1 centimeter) 787-style advanced electronic displays
• Redundant displays and controls for improved instruction and reliability
• 24-inch (61 centimeter) displays with 3-D refueling picture
• Comprehensive suite of logistics products and services
• Global support infrastructure
• Unparalleled lifecycle cost savings

The KC-46 has been designed and built as a combat tanker platform using the proven combination of light, durable aluminium alloy and composite structure that help make it lighter and more fuel efficient. The attributes of this platform have been derived from the advanced avionics, aerodynamics, materials and propulsion incorporated on the Boeing 767 passenger and freighter aircraft. The KC-46 is equipped with chemical and biological protective systems as also has a robust suite of defensive systems and self-protective measures. It incorporates flight-deck armour for protection against small arms fire as also is electromagnetic pulse-hardened for undertaking missions in a nuclear environment. All of these systems are incorporated into the aircraft during the production phase itself and not as a retrofit or modification later on.

The KC-46 aerial tanker has lower maintenance and repair costs on account of which this platform will offer the lowest lifecycle costs resulting in substantial savings over its lifetime as compared with any of its competing platforms available in the market today. It thus makes it the most efficient and effective aerial tanker currently available. Overall, the KC-46 Pegasus is thus an extremely versatile aerial refuelling platform that is ushering in a new era of efficient inflight refuelling of military aircraft.

The KC-46 is equipped with both hose-and-drogue as well as boom receptacle system, rendering the tanker capable of delivering fuel in flight to a wide variety of aircraft

KC-46 TANKER: KEY FEATURES

Self Protection
  • Electromagnetic pulse hardening
  • Chemical / biological operations
  • Fuel tank ballistic protection
  • Cockpit armor
Defensive Systems
  • Infrared countermeasures
  • Radio frequency warning
  • Night vision lighting
Air Refueling Receptacle
  • Extended range and flexibility
  • 1,200 GPM
Pratt & Whitney PW4062 Engines
  • 62K thrust per engine
  • 120 kVA generators
Crew Compartment
  • Seating for 15 crew members
  • Bunk/Storage/Galley/Lav
Centerline Drogue System (CDS)
  • 400 GPM offload rate
  • Parts commonality with WARPS
  • Permanently installed
Camera Systems
  • Hi-resolution stereoscopic boom cameras
  • 185 degree panoramic field of view
Advanced Fly-By-Wire Refueling Boom
  • Modernized KC-10 boom design
  • 1,200 GPM offload rate
  • Full-time independent disconnect
  • Full-time automatic load alleviation
Wing Air Refueling Pods (WARPS)
  • 400 GPM offload rate
  • Improved hose response
  • Improved fault detection and isolation
 

MULTI-ROLE CAPABILITIES

Passenger Configuration
  • FAA certified for 58 passengers; 114 for contingency operations
  • C-17 palletized seating
  • Palletized Air Transportable Galley/Lavatory
  • Palletized passenger bags
Aeromedical Evacuation Configuration
  • 54 patients with patient support pallets
  • 24 Litter / 30 Ambulatory
  • 6-patient integrated capability
  • Onboard emergency oxygen & electrical power
Cargo Configuration
  • Seamless integration with Defense Transportation System
  • 18 463L pallets; 10 pallets centerline configuration
  • Integrated roller system
  • Compatible with all USAF loaders
 

Source: https://www.boeing.com/defense/kc-46a-pegasus-tanker/#/technicalspecifications

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Width156 ft 1 in (47.5 m)
Length165 ft 10 in (50.5 m)
Height52 ft 10 in (16.1 m)
EnginesTwo Pratt & Whitney PW 4062 with 62,000 lbf (289.13 kN) thrust
Maximum Takeoff Weight415,000 lbs (188,241 kg)
Maximum Landing Weight310,000 lbs (140,614 kg)
Fuel Capacity212,299 lbs (96,265 kg)
Maximum Air Speed.86 Mach (650 mph)

The first lot of aerial tankers that the Indian Air Force (IAF) acquired was in 2003 by way of a fleet of six IL-78 four-engine platforms from Russia. On account of problems with maintenance and product support for the fleet that has resulted in poor flight-line availability of the aircraft, the IAF has been trying to acquire new generation aerial tankers for nearly a decade and a half to replace this vintage fleet; but the effort so far has not been successful. With the acquisition of the Rafale combat jets from Dassault Aviation of France currently under delivery, the need for inducting modern aerial refuelling platforms has acquired greater urgency. Initially, the IAF had made significant progress in its move to acquire six of the twin-engine Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) which had emerged as the winner in tenders floated twice, but the contract could not be awarded on account of dispute over pricing that could not be resolved.

After the two failed attempts, the IAF had last floated a Request for Information in 2018 as part of its third attempt to acquire six aerial tankers. However, as per a statement from Air Headquarters in May this year, tender for this acquisition will be issued for the third time in the near future. Ever since the failure of the second tender for aerial tanker, the IAF has been looking at the KC-46 Pegasus as an alternative to the A330 MRTT. The need to induct modern aerial tankers into the IAF is urgent and for this requirement, the latest version of the Pegasus would be a good choice that will remain so for decades to come as it is a very reliable and economical platform and could prove to be a game changer for the IAF.