New refueling aircraft unable to refuel others in-flight

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) — Officials say problems with a video system on the new Boeing refueling tankers are preventing them from performing their main mission of refueling other aircraft in flight.

On the KC-46A refueling tanker, the person operating the fuel boom — essentially a fuel hose — should be able to sit in the front of the plane and guide the fuel boom into place, using a video camera and computer screen. However, the video feed on the Remote Vision System is sometimes distorted by glare and shadows, making it challenging to control the boom, the Portsmouth Herald reported.

The aircraft is intended to replace older tankers that required operators to lie down at the back of the refueling tankers using a joystick to guide the boom into place.

While the problem is addressed, the tankers won’t able to refuel other aircraft in flight. But, according to comments made at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, they may be used for other missions, including airlifts and medical evacuations.

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Gen. David Goldfein, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said he told Boeing officials that time is of the essence. Boeing said in a statement that the company is working with the Air Force to enhance the video system by 2023 or 2024.

“Three or four years doesn’t sound like time is of the essence to me,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, said. “So I hope that this committee will do what we can to address that as well, because that that’s unacceptable.”

Currently, the Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing has seven KC-46A aircraft at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.

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