Boeing’s tanker gambit

Flight International reports that Boeing might offer the 767-400, a plane roughly the same size at the KC-30, for the aerial tanker. This would delay the process beyond year-end and into a new Congress.

The Seattle Post Intelligencer has this column of interest, called “The tanker in mathematical terms.”

Boeing is meeting with the Air Force Saturday to further discuss the Draft RFP, as detailed in this Bloomberg story. This means-obviously-the Final RFP won’t be out today. The new FRFP timeline goal is next week, but we (and participants) think that’s still ambitious.

Northrop’s CEO Ron Sugar says Boeing “got what it wanted” out of the GAO protest, but is unhappy anyway. Here’s this story.

Richard Aboulafia has this comment on “Back to Square One.”

During the competition, Boeing often suggested the Northrop KC-30 was “gold plated.” That is, yes, the plane carried more fuel, more troops and more cargo than the KC-767, but everything above the requirements set forth by the Air Force was mission creep, or gold plating. Therefore, we could not help but think of Boeing’s position when we read this story. We think is aptly sums up Boeing’s view about mission creep.

7 Comments on “Boeing’s tanker gambit

  1. “That is, yes, the plane carried more fuel, more troops and more cargo than the KC-767, but everything above the requirements set forth by the Air Force was mission creep, or gold plating.”

    Since the SRD did not specify a minimum number of pallets, patients, or passengers (the 3 “P”s) that the KC-X had to carry, then according to Boeing anything beyond one pallet, one passenger, or one medevac patient is “gold plating”?

    If Boeing attempts to match NG/EADS on capacity, NG/EADS will still beat Boeing on short field performance, price, and time to first delivery.

    Boeing would have been better off finding a way for the KC-767AT to carry a bit more fuel.

  2. Scott – Again nice piece. Could you enlighten us perhaps as to why it is so difficult engineering wise, so time consuming and so outrageously expensive to convert the 767 and 330 from passenger to tanker aircraft. Wasn’t the DC-10 converted to the KC-10 relatively easily? The Dutch and Omega Air have also converted DC-10s. So what is the big problem?


  3. Chris, just for the record, that wasn’t our piece–it was Flight.

    Can you be more specific in your P2F question? Not quite sure if you are talking about after-market conversions or OEM redesign and fresh-off-the-line cargo airplanes.

  4. Scott – I am referring to the new build conversions which BA and AB are offering.l I reference the Dutch and Omega AM DC-10 conversions because on the surface at least they look simple and inexpensive (altho I recognize they do not have booms). I reference the KC-10 because that was the winner of a competition similar to the one the AF has going on now (ie for a very large tanker which was a modification of an off/shelf aircraft), and I have the impression that that conversion, including the addition of the boom, went well.

    Given this past history, I am just wondering why the BA and AB conversions now are so complicated, time consuming, and expensive (apart from the politics).

    Also it may (or may not) be worthy of note that in the case of the KC-135, the conversion process was reversed. The 135 is the only tanker ever designed from the outset to be a tanker, and it was converted to a passenger plane, initially with its narrow body for the AF, and then as the wider body 707.

    Thx. Chris

  5. If the government weren’t involved, the process would go much more smoothly. Witness the creation of any previous new-build Boeing freighter, most recently the 777F. From engineering to certification is typically a couple of years, though it could be longer depending on market conditions as well. The 777F has gone smoothly; the 747-8F is a bit later than originally planned (roll-out has been moved back about three months, it previously was disclosed) but EIS is at the moment still promoted to be on time.

    Two other commercially-derived products at Boeing–the Wedgetail and P-8A, both based on the 737–have different track records. The Wedgetail has been a troubled program that’s been very late and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in write-offs; the P-8A is on time and moving ahead quite well. Same airplane, different missions, but different military requirements have produced different results. (None is a new-build cargo airplane, we acknowledge.)

    The Italian and Japanese KC-767s (the so-called “International” Program) were delayed for different reasons. It’s true that this P2F conversion process didn’t go well; Italy’s Alenia couldn’t get the conversion job done and Boeing brought the airplanes back to Wichita to finish them up. This is the reason the KC-767AT will be an in-line factory production rather than an after-market conversion. (Alenia also could not complete commercial 767-200P2F conversions for Capital Cargo, which re-contracted these with IAI Bedek.) But design issues also stalled the International Program. The wing pods on the Italian tanker proved to be plagued by flutter issues (and this might be why Boeing went to the heavier, stronger 767-300ERF wing for the AT program). The Japanese tankers had certification issues; FAA certification was part of the requirement and the FAA would not certify some part in the air conditioning/pressurization system. It took Boeing a while to get this fixed.

    As for after-market conversions, since the Dutch and Omega DC-10s were mentioned, these processes can take a long time, too. For example, the engineering for recent 757P2F programs took a couple of years and certification from the FAA took 14-24 months, depending on the program.

    Over at Airbus, the new-build A330F will have a birthing cycle of several years–EIS is 2009.

  6. Chris,

    The conversions take so long due to the strict, specific requirements built into RFP by the Air Force (e.g. runway length). Ironically it is easier in some respects to design and build a larger airplane like a KC-10 because there are inherent design constraints already in place. You can build a KC-10 that just does its job of refueling relatively quickly however if you want it to maneuver like a fighter aircraft and be able to fly into hot zones, that increases costs and design time tremendously (an extreme example to be sure, but the point is valid). If you want a good example, look at what’s happened to the F-35 and why it’s so overcost, overweight, and behind schedule. Compare that to a program like the A-10 which was designed for a single purpose and in service in less than 10 years from conception.

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