Air Force Says New Air Refueling Tanker Program On Track

By Tom Banse

Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane is planning a public memorial service for three of its airmen killed in a mid-air explosion over central Asia. 

The cause of the air refueling tanker accident last Friday remains under investigation. The crash renews attention on a Boeing Company contract to replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet.

The doomed Fairchild Air Force Base crewmates were flying a KC-135 Stratotanker built by Boeing in the early 1960's. By all accounts, Air Force mechanics keep the fifty-year-old tanker fleet in good condition. But replacing those jets is and has been a top priority of the Defense Department. 

In a statement, the Air Force said it's striving to keep the tanker acquisition contract fully funded despite budget cuts brought on by the Congressional "sequestration" policy. In 2011, the Air Force awarded a contract to Boeing to build 179 new tanker planes. They'll be assembled in Everett, Washington. 

Boeing and the Air Force both say the contract is "on track." In recent testimony to Congress, the Air Force brass said flight testing should begin late next year or in 2015. Washington's Congressional delegation has sent several letters to the Secretary of the Air Force urging him to assign the new tankers to Spokane's Fairchild Air Force Base.

The new air refueling tanker will be called the KC-46. It's a variant of the Boeing 767 passenger jet.

U.S. Air Force KC-46A tanker status update:

U.S. Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) statement on tanker program staying on schedule (April 12, 2013):

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