Boeing this week begins assembling the first refueling boom for the Air Force’s new aerial tanker aircraft, the KC-46, which is a modified 767-200ER and will be produced in Everett.

The boom, which is deployed in flight to connect the tanker aircraft to the gas tank of the aircraft it is refueling, will be built at a new Boom Assembly Center that opened Tuesday at Boeing Field in Seattle.

Maj. Gen. John Thompson, the U.S. Air Force Tanker Program Executive Officer, said the opening marked “a big day” for the tanker program and for the Air Force.

The start of boom assembly marks a shift from design activities to production.

“Boeing continues to make good progress toward delivering the KC-46 Tanker on schedule,” Thompson said in a press release.

Assembly of the first KC-46 aircraft is slated to begin next summer in Everett. Testing of the new boom is scheduled to begin at a systems integration lab in the third quarter of 2013.

Boeing is contracted to build a total of 179 tanker aircraft to replace the Air Force’s aging KC-135 tankers. It must deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by 2017.

The company didn’t disclose any details about the boom facility’s size or employment.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com