KC-46 refuels air force bomber
The US Air Force’s new KC-46 refuelling tanker has made its first mid-air connection with the B-2 Spirit.
The air force took first delivery of the KC-46 earlier this year, and has now successfully connected with two of the three bombers in the air force inventory.
The data gathered from the pairing during the developmental testing phase will impact how the KC-46 operates in the near future. Engineers are looking at information pertaining to flight characteristics as well as other data such as the bow-wave effect from the tanker on the receiver and how it affects receiver handling qualities, boom handling qualities, whether the visual reference indications are satisfactory to both aircrews.
The flying wing design of the B-2 poses unique challenges to the flying and handling qualities of the tanker-receiver pair, as the up-wash at the leading edge of the flying wing is dynamic compared to the bow wave at the nose of a conventional receiver aircraft. This dynamic airflow environment in close proximity to the horizontal stabiliser of the tanker is being assessed.
The testing follows a heritage safety-build-up process where the tanker-receiver pair build out from the centre of an altitude/airspeed/configuration envelope, defined by legacy tanker and simulation data. Engineers then incrementally test the handling qualities of the individual aircraft and then build to the handling qualities of the pair. This process allows the test team to thoroughly evaluate the dynamics of the pair during aerial refuelling and mitigation the risk of mid-air collision, boom strike outside the air-refueler receptacle, and fuel over pressurisation.
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