Hard work pays off as KC-46 makes first flight

With years of hard work under their belts, hundreds of Rockwell Collins employees assigned to the KC-46 program recently received some good news — Boeing’s newest tanker successfully made its first flight Sept. 25 near Everett, Washington.

Rockwell Collins has an important role in the aircraft, providing the flight deck, aircraft networks, surveillance/air traffic management equipment, communications and navigation gear as well as the advanced situational awareness and vision systems required for aerial refueling. 

For Dan Henry, principal systems engineer for Vision Augmentation Systems in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the remote vision system (RVS) on the KC-46 is the reason he joined our company four years ago.

“I was brought on as a subject matter expert for airborne imaging sensors,” said Henry. “Our team was tasked with creating the most innovative three dimensional imaging system on board any refueling tanker.”

Rockwell Collins’ RVS enables a boom operator to refuel aircraft at any time, under any lighting conditions thanks to cameras mounted on the exterior of the tanker. These cameras provide a multiband 3D view and wingtip-to-wingtip situational awareness that make guiding the boom easier and more efficient. On previous platforms, boom operators had to look out small windows to link up the boom for refueling. 

Henry said that integrating multiple state-of-the-art technologies into a fully functional system has been challenging, but very rewarding.

“Our close and cooperative working relationships with Boeing and our suppliers have been critical to the success of the program,” added Henry. “It’s a good feeling to see it in flight.”

These thoughts are echoed by John LeTourneau, a senior systems engineer at our Portland, Oregon, facility.

“It’s a great milestone for the program, but it's also exciting because it marks the start of the next phase of work for us,” said LeTourneau. “We’re now going to start seeing our equipment tested in a realistic, dynamic environment which is very different from the static lab environments we’re used to.”

LeTourneau added this next phase includes continuing to work closely with Boeing to make adjustments to equipment on board, including the RVS camera sensors which are his focus.

“We're moving forward, which is good news for Boeing, and good news for Rockwell Collins and the employees who are helping to make this program successful,” he said.

Boeing is currently working toward delivery of the first 18 new KC-46 tankers to the U.S. Air Force by August 2017.

Story posted: October 8, 2015

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