Tag Archives: tanker

Military Surprises at Boeing Field

I was sitting at Boeing Field awaiting the return of a couple of jets.  Apps like FlightRadar24 allow you to keep an eye on where things are and when they are due in.  What they don’t usually cover is military flights.  Fortunately, I had the radio scanner sitting on the dash so, while I was busy doing something else while waiting, the sound of someone calling up on approach caught me by surprise.  I finished what I was doing and then got the camera just as a KC-135 hove in to view.  What a nice surprise.

A while later, something similar happened.  Another plane called up with what sounded like a Navy callsign.  This time I had a bit more time to get out and look up the approach to see what it might be.  A P-8 was coming in.  They got bounced around on short final by the gusty conditions which were combining with the airport buildings to make things pretty interesting for the crew.  I had an easier time taking the pictures I think.

The 767 That Never Was

Prior to the KC-46 Pegasus, Boeing had another go at selling the 767 to the USAF as a tanker.  The aircraft that they had intended to be the solution at that point was a different configuration to what ultimately made its way in to the inventory.  They went as far as building a speculative airframe for the project.  However, when the project was aborted (for reasons that are far too complex for a simple blog post), the airframe lay unfinished.  It was stored for a while at Paine Field before eventually being scrapped.  Here is a shot of it prior to its demise.

Sunrise on Stored KC-46s

Boeing is now delivering KC-46s to the Air Force at a rate that is a bit of an improvement.  There are still plenty of issues with the project (with some only recently discovered) but at least jets are now making their way to the customer, even if they are not flying them too much!  However, there are still a lot of the jets parked at Paine Field.  The early morning sun provides some nice light on the line of aircraft.  It is a rather cluttered view with plenty of airfield material in the shot but the light makes it a bit more appealing.

Tankers at Sunrise

Boeing started delivering KC-46s to the USAF as I covered in this post.  However, it didn’t take too long before the Air Force found various items of tooling in the aircraft that shouldn’t have been there and stopped taking delivery.  Consequently, rather than delivering the backlog, it has continued to build.  Paine Field had well over a dozen aircraft in various locations when we were there including three over by the Heritage Flight Foundation’s hangars.  Here three were illuminated nicely by the sun as it rose across the field so a pano seemed in order.

Rainy Pegasus Takeoff

I have shot KC-46s in bad conditions more often than would seem probable.  I got one in conditions so dark it was like a night shoot.  This time it was heavy rain.  Of course that can mean vapor.  The matte gray of fuselage actually looks better when it is wet.  I had hoped the inlets would fog but that didn’t happen.  However, the flat light helped the fuselage a bit which often gets too contrasts.  Besides that it throws up a ton of spray behind it as it accelerates down the runway. Rotating in front of me meant I was rather happy with the result compared to what I expected.

Dutch KDC-10

There were two tankers I was hoping to shoot at Red Flag.  One was the Colombian 767.  It didn’t fly on the first day but on the second it started to taxi before returning to the ramp and shutting down.  Never mind.  The other was the Dutch KDC-10.  I hadn’t shot one before and they are not likely to be in service for too much longer so this might have been my last chance.  Therefore, I hoped it would fly and it didn’t let me down.

The winds were strong on the first day and it departed towards us off 21L.  As soon as it was airborne, the nose cocked into the strong crosswind and it turned towards us.  A right turn overhead and it was on its way to the ranges.  When it returned, they went for a very impressive curving approach.  It looked great.  However, it wasn’t great from a flying perspective and a go around followed.  The second approach was more conventional and more successful.

On the second day they flew again.  This time the arrivals were from over the Speedway so a more traditional view of them coming in.  I was hoping for a go around and a tight circuit to land but that was a tad optimistic.  Maybe after the previous day they were more content to get the beast back on the ground.

Juggling the Pegasuses

While the UPS freighter had enticed me to Everett, I was interested to see that Boeing was busy moving KC-46s around.  They have a hangar at the south end of the field where they work on the Pegasus aircraft and they were taking on out of the hangar.  To do this, they needed to move a bunch of them out of the way so they had a juggling act underway putting different planes in odd locations while they all were moved.  They stuck a row of them down by the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum.

The plane came out of the hangar and was rolled off to park.  Then, one that had been sitting outside for a while was moved back inside.  I wasn’t going to hang around to see if they moved them all back that evening but I did go across to the museum side to see them parked in this odd location before leaving.  At this time the Air Force had halted deliveries due to loose items in the received airframes so I guess the chance of more airframes stacking up was back on the cards.

Medusa Flight for the First Delivery

Finally, the first Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tankers were delivered to the USAF.  Not one but two tankers were delivered in the ceremony, a nice effort at a joke by Boeing having left everyone thinking it would only be one.  Then again, when you have that many of them sitting around, I guess it should have been even more!  The ceremony took place on one day and the delivery was the following morning.

The jets left from Paine Field just after sunrise.  That is sunrise if you don’t have clouds on the horizon.  The sun had barely squeaked above those when the two jets took off as Medusa 1 and 2.  They were preceded by a McConnell AFB KC-135R – the aircraft that they will be replacing.  It got airborne in very limited light and headed for Kansas.  Then the two new jets lined up in turn and departed.  No flybys or wing waggles.  Just gear up, switch to departure frequency and off into the steadily brightening sky.  Avoid the traffic inbound to SeaTac and off you go.  Lots more should be following soon while efforts continue to fix the issues with the camera system and the underwing hose and drogue pods.

State of the Pegasus Fleet

January 2019 brought a milestone for the USAF.  They accepted their first KC-46 Pegasus.  Admittedly they accepted it with a number of deferred issues that Boeing has been given a few years to resolve but that are Category 1 deficiencies.  I guess this should mean we will see a lot of deliveries in the coming weeks and months.

The backlog of jets parked up is substantial.  There are jets parked at Boeing Field on both the military ramp and the flight test ramp.  There are more scattered around the Boeing ramp at Everett.  More of them are in the conversion area at the south end of Paine Field.  More still are parked up across the cross runway.  It’s a lot of jets and, if you are an accountant, this is a level of Work In Progress that must make you squirm.  We should see them start to head on their way before too long.

West Seattle Bonuses

We made a trip to West Seattle with our guests while they were here.  We were looking at the view of the city and also wondering what wildlife might show itself.  I got a benefit in that departures from SeaTac and Boeing Field were coming to the north.  I got a couple of nice airliner shots as they climbed out over us.  They weren’t the only ones though.  A KC-46 launched out of Boeing Field and climbed over us as it went off to its test area.  I wasn’t paying attention, but my guests spotted something rocketing up behind it.  An F/A-18C Hornet from the Strike Test unit was following it, presumably for some test work.  It climbed rapidly but then leveled out, I assume to stay below the departure routes from SeaTac.  Not a bad bonus for me while showing the sights to my guests.