NIAR, partners offer tanker-converted 777-300ER PTF to US Air Force

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By Scott Hamilton

Jan. 31, 2022, © Leeham News: A third company will offer a tanker to the US Air Force when the KC-Y Request for Proposal is issued this year.

Kansas Modification Center (KMC) and the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) will propose converting used Boeing 777-300ERs to tankers. Jim Gibbs, president and CEO of KMC, already submitted information to the Air Force in response to last year’s Request for Information.

A retired B-1 bomber acquired by NIAR for research. Credit: Wichita State University.

Gibbs, in an interview with LNA, said that the concept is to offer the Air Force a tanker not for front-line combat zones, but along the lines of the conversions used by Omega Air. Omega provides non-combat air refueling service for the US Navy, Air Force, and some NATO countries. It operates after-market conversions of the Boeing 707 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10. IAI Bedek also undertook after-market tanker conversions of the 707 and Boeing 767. The UK's Royal Air Force converted Vickers VC-10s and Lockheed L-1011s to tankers.

Choosing the 777-300ER

Gibbs said the KMC and NIAR chose the 777-300ER over the 777-200ER or LR as the better platform, in their view.

“The 777, especially the -300, makes an enormous amount of sense right now. It's a modern aircraft, very low time, the aircraft itself can haul about 200,000 pounds on a structural payload with very minor modifications to it,” Gibbs said. “You can take that aircraft, add some existing capabilities on it, such as the existing boom of KC-135, and simplify the fuel offload process. I think you would have a very capable tanker. If you have a mission radius of 3,000 miles, a 777 can still offload 150,000 pounds of fuel.

“The -300ER has a higher gross weight than anything, with the exception of the -200LR. If you look at the available aircraft for conversion and the available feedstock on it, the LR and the type of aircraft available for that are very minimal compared to the -300ER feedstock. The -300 is a bigger aircraft, it shares the same wing box and a lot of structure with the -200, or most of the structure, besides the plugs. We need to inject 100 tankers into the fleet. There's not that many -200LRs out there,” Gibbs said.

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