Just last week the new U.S. Air Force Tanker, the KC-46A, passed the fifth of six flight refueling tests, passing fuel from Boeing Co.’s (NYSE: BA) troubled plane to a C-17 cargo plane. In order to clear a major milestone in the program, the KC-46A had to pass fuel to Air Force F-16 fighter jets, Navy F/A-18 Hornets, the Marine Corp AV-8B Harrier II, the C-17 cargo plane, the A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka the Warthog) and to another KC-46 as the receiving aircraft.
The last of the six demonstrations was completed last Friday, according to an announcement Tuesday morning from the Air Force when the KC-46A successfully passed 1,500 pounds of fuel to the A-10 Warthog.
The new tanker failed a refueling test with the C-17 earlier this year and the company had to install a hardware fix that caused the KC-46 to miss milestone deadline and ultimately resulted in pushing scheduled delivery of the first planes out to January 2017, five months later than the original schedule.
Air Force program executive office Brigadier General Duke Richardson said:
Today’s flight marks the final step we needed to see on the boom fix in order to request production go-ahead. Our joint team’s tireless efforts are paying off, preparing us for the next step of this critical need to our warfighter.
The completion of the final refueling tests now allows Boeing to request approval from the U.S. Department of Defense to award the contract to produce the first 19 new tankers.
Last May, Boeing said it had five tankers in testing, including the first production aircraft, with seven more in final production and eight in the supply chain.
Boeing won the $35 billion contract in 2011 after a decade of scandal and protests related to the process. EADS, the predecessor to Airbus, actually won the contract in 2007, but a protest by Boeing led to another round of bidding, won by Boeing. Airbus conceded at that point.
Boeing stock traded up about 1% Tuesday morning, at $134.91 in a 52-week range of $102.10 to $150.59.