February 13, 2007—
Boeing yesterday announced that its offering for the Air Force’s new KC-X tanker replacement program will be the KC-767, based on its review of the service’s final request for proposals, released Jan. 30. Although the draft RFP suggested the Air Force wanted more of a combination tanker/cargo platform, the final proposal emphasized a “mostly tanker” configuration, company officials said at a press conference. Boeing therefore discarded its KC-777 proposal in favor of the KC-767, based on its 767-200ER commercial freighter.
Boeing officials said their analysis suggests that the ability to put a lot of tankers on a forward-based airfield and to park and maneuver within a small space and a short runway best fits the Air Force’s requirements. The 777—and, by implication, the similarly sized Northrop Grumman-EADS Airbus A330 competitor—would be too cumbersome, according to Boeing. (Northrop announced its plan to compete the KC-30 last week.) USAF wants an airplane that can fly from an 8,000-foot runway, but would prefer something that operates from a 7,000-foot field.
Boeing’s KC-777 was far larger than what the Air Force needs, Boeing officials explained, and even the 767-300 variant proved too much for what the service said it wanted. “The business case just did not justify carrying around an extra 19 feet of aluminum” in the 767-300, according to Mark McGraw, Boeing VP for tanker programs.
As for cargo capacity, Boeing VP for Air Force Programs John Sams noted that only about 1.8 percent of tankers today are tasked to carry cargo. Even so, the KC-767 can carry treble the fuel, passengers, or cargo of the existing KC-135 tanker.
If Boeing wins the KC-X competition, it will build the basic 767 aircraft on its Everett, Wash. commercial production line and send the finished airplane to its Wichita, Kan., plant for installation of military-specific gear and test and delivery. At one point, the company considered ripping out commercial-specific bulkheads, floors, etc., at Wichita before proceeding with “militarization.” Instead, Boeing decided it could eliminate that costly step by incorporating the changes on the primary production line at Everett. The entire process would involve some 44,000 jobs, including some work done in Long Beach, Calif., and in a smattering of other states.
Just a few years ago, the 767 line was on the verge of closing due to lack of orders, and Boeing had to spend its own money to keep the line open longer while USAF mulled its plan for tanker replacement. However, officials noted that the airline business has come roaring back, and Boeing recently landed a 27-airplane order from UPS for a cargo version, creating a backlog of about 50 aircraft, according to Boeing’s Beverly Wyse, VP of 767 commercial production.
And, Boeing is working on orders from Italy and Japan for four KC-767s each, which, company officials maintained, put their tanker more than a year into flight test, making them a “lower risk” solution to USAF’s tanker requirement.
The Air Force wants its first KC-X by 2010, but Boeing declined to say whether it could beat that deadline, saying that info is “competition sensitive.”