USAF moves up AF One replacement, reports Inside Defense

Dec. 7, 2014: The US Air Force is moving up the the Presidential Aircraft Replacement program to seek Requests for Proposals next year, according to the specialty newsletter Inside Defense.

The Boeing 747-8 is viewed as the certain selection to become the next Air Force One. Source: Flight Global.

An airframe purchase will occur in 2016, according to the newsletter. Delivery would be in 2018. Boeing, which supplied the two 747-200-based VC-25 aircraft that comprise today’s Air Force One fleet, already has assembled a team for the proposal, Inside Defense reports.

The USAF previously had talked about acquiring replacements in 2021.

Notably, Airbus–which previously said it won’t compete for a new AF One–hedged when asked by the newsletter.

Could Airbus compete for the new Air Force One after all? It hasn’t been ruled out, according to Inside Defense.

“Airbus, still scarred by its failed bid for the KC-X tanker program, which Boeing won, has not committed to pursuing the Air Force One replacement work. Instead, the company told ITAF last month that it will wait to see the requirements before making a decision whether to compete. The company has concerns about the competitiveness of the program, which would almost certainly favor an American supplier,” the newsletter writes. Airbus and Boeing participated in a 2013 market research study by the USAF.

Suppliers of the highly sensitive military equipment are also already lining up to submit proposals, says Inside Defense, including Northrop Grumman.

For Boeing, this is a prestigious contract. Boeing has provided Air Force One

Boeing’s poor-selling 747-8 faces a likely production rate cut. Click image to enlarge.

since the 707 in 1959. The current 747, the -8, is a slow-seller, with a backlog of only 41 aircraft at Nov. 30 and a production rate of 18/yr. There is a large production gap in 2016. Boeing is expected to reduce the production rate.

Building AF One on the same production line as the commercial 747-8, with its highly secretive materials, could be problematic, according to some observers. But the KC-46A, with sensitive equipment, is built on the same line as the commercial 767. Furthermore, Inside Defense reports that the USAF might split the airframe and hardware contracts, which may suggest an after-market installation at a secure location.

50 Comments on “USAF moves up AF One replacement, reports Inside Defense

  1. I don’t think this is a last second stick save for 747, just a bit tighter definition of the timeline on which the program goes away. That would now appear to be 2018 at the latest. The procurement people either predict or have been told their old acquisition dates would mean the 747 would not be around to purchase, so they bumped them up.

    • The almost certain closure of the 747-8 line by 2018-2019 is surely the reason for this announcement.

      • I too wondered this – or are there any other plausible reasons for the USAF to have brought this program forward?

  2. I think the B747-8 is not only favored by its American heritage and Boeing’s stronger incentive to win this contract, it is also the better aircraft as it is “right-sized” and lots of the design work from the VC-25B can be recycled. Airbus should not compete on this.

    • 747-8 would a fitting companion to “The Beast”.
      Yesterdays tech cloaked in a shiny coat of new paint.
      In that context the -8f would be the better fit 😉

      What a US president flies around in is rather moot to most people around the world. I would expect the created revenue not to be worth the hassle. How much IP would Airbus have to divulge? Information that will with some certainty be accessible to Boeing.

    • “Right Sized” would be a 787-8 or 9.

      we should have an AF1 sized to haul the Presidential family, essential staff (i.e. secs of def, state, hd, chief of staff, + 2 staff members each), some military comms operators and a secret service detail.

      everybody else should fly commercial coach.

      the Press ethically should refuse to fly on AF1 as “paying coach” to fly on AF1 doesn’t pass the corruption sniff test on either end.

    • “lots of the design work from the VC-25B can be recycled”

      Boeing already tried this kind of recycling with the 747-8i and failed badly. Boeing still has problems to get its “right-sized” tanker up in the air.

      For the US the 747-8i has one big advantage against the A380: the 747 is cheaper.

      • I’d be willing to bet that airframe acquisition costs will be a pretty small part of the total cost of the whole program. The cost difference between the A380 and 748 would not be significant when you factor in the conversion costs.

      • For the US the 747-8i has one big advantage against the A380: the 747 is cheaper.

        Maybe Airbus could get some “launch aid” and come in with a lower price. ; )

  3. Can you imagine the next republican pres. parking his “little” (right sized) 747 next to Hollande’s full sized A380…

    mais bien sûr, mon ami; park your air force one in the shade!

    • Just as a comfort; Size is not the most important factor, it’s how all about how you use it 😉

    • Correct me if I am wrong but the French’s Presidential Aircraft is not an A 380 but an Airbus 330.

      • Correct me if I am wrong but the French’s Presidential Aircraft is not an A 380 but an Airbus 330.

        Indeed – in fact, other than the heads of some Middle Eastern states, only two heads of state worldwide have their own dedicated 747-size planes. Namely the President of the US and the PM of Japan (who shares two 747s with the imperial family).

        I think it’s more probable that Angela gets a A380.
        She only got two A340-300 a few years ago.
        Both second hand, by the way, just like Hollande’s A330.

        Some interesting reading on the current aircraft used by heads of state and governments worldwide:

          • Oops – missed South Korea there, cheers.
            Although I might point out that the Koreans only started leasing their 747 from Korean Air when it had already been in commercial service for almost 10 years.
            Japan, meanwhile, will downsize to 777-300ER in or around 2019.

        • The japanese government has just ordered two 777-300ER for delivery in 2019. Getting in while they are offering big discounts ?

          • And South Korea is soon to take delivery of a 787-8 as the replacement for their 747-400.

            Mexico has also taken delivery of a 787 for their presidential airframe.

  4. I think it’s more probable that Angela gets a A380. Or what’s about a shared A380 for France and Germany … just to harass the next pres at the next summit 😉

  5. Apart from any technical consideration, even promoting A380s in the US for that role is political suicide.

    The Boeing lobby would hit the media with 10 reason why an alternative to Boeing is scandalous. Too Large, too French, too Expensive, too subsidized; the more emotional, the better. No president wants to burn himself.

    Luckily the 747-8 is available, right sized and offers commonality with the existing platform.

    Maybe Airbus will stir the pot with something that meets all formal requirements and is 4 times as cheap..

      • I assume, that even when they stop production of the 747-8, the last ones will be for the AFOne deal with enough spares that need special tooling to produce to support the aircrafts for some decades. Honestly … while it’s funny to imagine an US president arriving in an AirForce A380, this special is one deal where other should stay out. The aircraft is more a symbol than a mean of transportation and thus it’s reasonable that the aircraft is a domestic produce (whatever this is in globalized manufacturing chain). It would be equally strange if the government transport of european countries with a lot of employees at EADS (Angelas used ex-LH A340 or Francois A330, strangely David has not an own aircraft, Spain is thinking about an A330 as far as i read a while ago). As i said it’s a more a symbol.

        • A government aircraft is not only a symbol. It is not quite easy to discuss something even seated on first class seating.

          I want my government to make a good deal at any summit. The price for an aircraft is laughable in contrast to even one slightly bad deal related to bad preparation.

          The UK is just like Spain and Australia thinking of one A330MRTT with VIP seating.

          • Of course a proper VIP cabin is not a symbol. But the VC25 in it’s livery it’s a symbol. And you could argue, that one of the symbols of US power is a little bit compromised in it’s effectiveness when it’s a european fuselage.

  6. I am wondering if an Airbus “bid”would be a facesaving exercise, so the Defense Department can demonstrate a competed tender. Everyone knows Boeing will win this one, but Airbus would be happy to go through the motions, if asked to do so by the Defense Department. Airbus hopes to get their business in the future.

    • Putting it out to tender might well mean the next AF-1 is an IL-96. I can’t see this being tendered, even in a “for show only” process.

  7. This all seems a bit obscene. The original jet AF1 lasted around 3 decades or more I believe, and while we know our recent presidents have enjoyed flying around in it a bit more than some of their predecessors, it can’t plausibly have a high cycle count compared to the BA/LH vehicles which are retired over 115K hrs.

    Ah, government efficiency I suppose…

    • The basic airframes were 747-200B bought around production end of that type, weren’t they?

      What is the spares situation like?

      If that is a problem it will come up much earlier for a 748 frame. Only ~1/3rd the production numbers.

      • the primary justification for the current replacement plan is related to parts availability. the current planes are 747-200s, some of the last off the line in 1986 (4 years after start of -300 production and during -400 production startup), and didn’t come into service until 1990. so they have been in service 25ish years, for comparison, the 2 VC-137s they replaced had been in service 23 and 13 years respectively

        with all -200s not in USAF service having been retired to the boneyards, and many (most?) having been reduced to scrap, remanufactured parts are getting harder to find. by the time the replacement is actually in service (2025ish?) this will have become a real issue.

        but buying a dead end, lame duck, low production platform such as the -8i seems a fools bargain.

      • The frame of 23824 is 27.6 years old … 23825 is 27.1 years old … probably this aircrafts will be 35-40 when they are finally replaced …

      • I think the issue is not spares availability right now per se, but the need to have a replacement before the time when spares are no longer available. (And isn’t the 747-200 basically the same as the 747-300 except for the lack of a stretched upper deck, so the issue is really 747-300 spares.)
        It seems likely A380 spares will be available longer than 747-8 spares but the question is whether 747-8 spares are likely to be around for the expected life of the airplane.

  8. The USAF favors a 4-engine aircraft for the AF-1 mission due to redundancy and perceived reliability issues. Given the exceptional track record of 2-engine aircraft (e.g., 777) and the smaller packaging of electronic systems (e.g., the secure on-board systems required for the presidential mission), it would seem that the new B-777-9 would be an excellent alternative.

    Better fuel economy and reduced maintenance costs are two principal advantages without endangering the safety of the President. True, a larger aircraft might be more impressive, but for the US taxpayer, a smaller aircraft would be a better alternative. Bigger is not necessarily better.

    • I don’t think it’s because of capacity but of ETOPLWPDLH … (Engines turn or passenger lands where people don’t like him/her). And i don’t think it’s “perceived”. I really think it’s a major headache to weight the altenatives “flying with an aircraft to an location that isn’t prepared because just one engine is turning” or “flying with just one aircraft to the final destination with all the preparations made”. I think the advantage of “okay, as long not a second fails we go” isn’t only an perceived reliability advantage of the 4 engine aircrafts out of a multitude of reasons and may be even more cost effective, because you need essentially the same preparation at the alternates costing a lof of money.

      • Honestly, I think if ETOPS is good enough to carry 300+ people on commercial airliners, it’s certainly good enough for any head of state, US or otherwise.

        • The security in the sense “aircraft stays in the air until next airport is reached” isn’t the problem, the problem is “is the single important passenger and the aircraft defendable at the airport it was forced to use”.

        • But what about suitable diversion airports in case of an engine out on a twin. Would the POTUS be allowed to land just anywhere?

        • The use case is different.
          one engine out on a twin and you are limping.
          one engine out on a quad is just a nuisance.

          Could a one engine out twin still be refueled in the air?

  9. And yet we have plans to keep some B-52 and KC-135 frames in service until they hit nearly 100 years old. For cost comparison stocking up on the parts to keep a few 747 classics running another 25 years would be pennies on the dollar to new 748i’s. And the 8i is just then walking into a similar situation in 20 years as there’s real doubt the thing should even be in production still today.

    And now the USAF of course plans to continue buying new PW4000 engines through about 2030 for the KC-46, so one would think that IF engine parts (the main part concern) would be an issue they could re-engine The VC25’s with that equivalent powerplant and just standardize to that only-moderately-outdated core, which the USAF presently plans to use for at least 50 years.

    • The thing is, the AF has a lot of B-52s and KC-135s sitting at Davis Monthan that are a more than adequate source of spare parts for those two types.

  10. The AF1 has to be better than the rest of the 748bbj. Take the freighter hump and graft it on top of the upper deck of the 8i for a presidential penthouse.

  11. I think if necessary the VC25 can fly for another 20 years, spares are available by the hundreds. It would be cheap to simply but a dozen and park them somewhere.

    By the way: most countries chose widebodies as basic aircraft. Apparently, that is the size deemed most appropriate. When you buy a family car, you don’t buy a car that fits 100.0% of the possible missions (then you buy a truck!) and neither one that suits 85% of the missions with best efficiency (ending up with a single seater).

    The actual cost to the tax payer of a slightly larger aircraft is neglectible, the few gallons more fuel are the least important item. Even the purchase price is largely dominated by the modifications (see also A340 of the Luftwaffe modified for use as head of state aircraft).

    • One central concern for swapping out the A310 here was range. Fuel stops take time and introduce risks.

  12. There aren’t that many BUFFs in storage any longer (type 2000 for parts.). I think the old AF1 is though. 365 were guillotined under salt I back in the early 90s I believe. I’d like to see a current piece on sustainability ops by B-52 technicians but haven’t for a quite a few years. Just the ongoing reengine debate.

  13. the ETOPS machine can fly for many hours on a single engine. it will simply land on the nearest WB capable airport. In e.g. Siberia, Cuba

  14. My 2 cents:
    The very best airplane available today is a Airbus A340-500. Lots of range, no ETOPS, very good looking aircraft. Many parts are A330 compatible, and could be in production for another 10 -15 years. If POTUS wants to go from DC to say, Singapur, it could be theoretically possible, avoiding all other countries, just middle of the Pacific Ocean…
    And may be really, really cheap.

  15. In truth now the very last opportunity to buy an off-the-peg American-made four-engine airliner, which seems to be the basic requirement.

  16. I believe the aircraft has to have been in production 8 years before it can be considered for AF1.

    Ergo a 777-9 would be 2025 or so.

    That said, as noted, the fit out vastly exceeds the cost of AF1. Its a flying command center as well as nice digs for the Pres and family et al.

  17. Personally, I think a 777-8X would be ideal, but the USAF does not want a two-engine airplane.

    The comments about building the Air Force One on the same line as the 747-8 makes no sense. Every Air Force One has been built on a commercial line. As has the many other executive transports (707s, 757s, 737s, and Gulfstreams), and the E-4B.

    These aircraft are always delivered “green”, and then kitted out on a military aircraft manufacturing facility. I think Boeing Wichita did the work on the various Boeings. Gulfstream has such a big military market it does its own.

    Reuse of VC-25 equipment seems unlikely. Some of that was cannibalized from some of the E-4Bs, and is old. Also, electronic protection equipment has significantly evolved over the last 15 years, and will evolve more over the next five years. Newer DIRCM/LAIRCM systems are likely for the new AF1.

  18. As I recall, when the 747-200 was selected as the replacement for the then current airframes, there was a requirement that the chosen airframe had to have been in production for X-number of years, as proof of reliability. I don’t recall what value was assigned to “X”.

    As far as being built on the same line as commercial variants, the rules have changed since the current AF1s were built. The 737 Pegasus versions are built on their own line with no foreign nationals allowed to work on that line. Post 9/11 folks.

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