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Old 06-18-2009, 06:32 AM   #1  
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Default 777 tanker?

Pitching 777 for tanker contest could mean more jobs at Boeing Everett plant

Boeing says it's ready and willing to pitch the 777 as its contender in the Air Force tanker competition an approach that could mean some big changes in the Everett plant that builds them.

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

PARIS At the Paris Air Show on Tuesday, Boeing presented its new Air Force tanker strategy, including the option to offer a very large 777 jet instead of the midsize 767 it pitched last time.
If Boeing were to win the new competition with the 777, it would likely mean more jobs in Everett than first envisioned.
And there's one scenario Boeing is considering that could bring a radical change to the factory: have Everett workers install military systems and complete the tankers rather than fly each tanker airframe to one of Boeing's defense factories, such as in Wichita, Kan., for finishing.
But the 777 option also presents a conundrum. How will Boeing handle military 777 production mixed in with the building of commercial 777s?
Boeing's new approach to tankers is the latest installment in a long saga.
The company was awarded the first Air Force tanker contract in 2001, which was then killed after an acquisition scandal.
Last year, Airbus' parent EADS and U.S. partner Northrop Grumman won the second contest with their offer of an A330 tanker. The deal was worth initially about $40 billion for the first 179 jets.
Award canceled
But last fall, Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled that award after Boeing protested the procurement process as unfair.
Boeing executives said Tuesday that final decisions on exactly which tanker they will use in the new competition, and how they will propose to build it, depend on the requirements and procedures to be laid out by the Pentagon next month.
Choosing from a spectrum of different-size tanker options, Boeing executives seem convinced they can pluck out the perfect contender to match whatever requirements emerge in the next round of this convoluted, unpredictable contest.
Once the requirements have been analyzed, program managers will choose among a range of base airplanes, from the smallest variant of the midsize 767 up to the 777.
Whatever U.S. wants
"We're ready to build America's next tanker in whatever configuration and to whatever requirements the [U.S. government] desires," said Dave Bowman, Boeing vice president of tanker programs.
Monday at the air show, the Northrop Grumman/EADS strategy laid out by Northrop Vice President Paul Meyer was a lot simpler: Let's repeat and don't change the rules then the A330 will win again.
For Boeing, changing its entry to a 777 tanker would raise issues a 767 did not.
Military production lines with proprietary defense work are governed by federal rules known as International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), with requirements that include restricted access. No foreign national is allowed inside an ITAR zone.
In Renton, Boeing solved this problem for its 737-based anti-submarine P-8 Poseidon jet by creating a third production line in a separate, access-controlled building.
If the 767 were the tanker candidate, the whole 767 bay in the Everett factory could be designated an ITAR zone because commercial 767 deliveries are winding down.
Because the commercial 777 line will be rolling out five to seven commercial planes every month for years to come, it's trickier to isolate the military from the nonmilitary.
Boeing certainly wouldn't want to bar its mostly foreign 777 customers from coming in to look at progress on their airplanes.
But in Paris, Pat Shanahan, the Boeing Commercial Airplanes vice president in charge of all airplane programs, minimized the difficulty.
"We've got a lot of space" in the Everett plant, Shanahan said at a tanker briefing. "We have lots of flexibility at the site to isolate the airplane like we've done on Poseidon" to meet Defense Department access restrictions.
In conversations afterward, Shanahan elaborated that the wings and fuselage of a 777 tanker airframe could be assembled on the massive jig used to assemble the regular commercial 777s, then the completed airframe could be shifted to an access-controlled bay for more installation work.
That ITAR bay could potentially become a completion center where the tanker is finished, another Boeing official said.
However, all options are on the table, including the previous plan of flying the tanker to Wichita or another defense facility for finishing.
Though Bowman said his team has been studying all the approaches closely for the past year, developing a 777 tanker would be more costly and likely take longer.
A 767 tanker would be simpler because Boeing has been working on those for years. Three for the Italian Air Force are nearing the end of flight testing this summer.
The Italian planes are now four years late. They had been plagued by flutter, a vibration problem in flight, which Boeing has fixed.
And Boeing has finally delivered three 767 tankers to the Japanese Air Force. They were two years late but are at last in service.
In the competition against the A330 tanker, Boeing could say that having solved all the technical problems with the Japanese tankers, it was the only contender with a working aircraft.
The Airbus A330 tanker is still in flight testing with the Australian Air Force.
Switching to the 777 would lose Boeing that advantage.
Until the requirements come out, though, it's unclear where this contest is going. The Pentagon is expected to lay out the parameters in July and announce a winner next spring.

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Old 06-18-2009, 08:20 AM   #2  
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For the life of me I never understood why Boeing didn't lobby the AF for a new 777 tanker/airlift platform as soon as they build the thing. Sounds like an improvement over the tanker/airlift combo the KC-10 provides. Can any Gucci guys chime in?
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:08 AM   #3  
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The 777 is a tremendous upgrade. However, the 777 IS NOT what the USAF / DOD needs. We need a more tactical sized tanker rather than a strategic tanker.

As a tanker planner who was stationed at a fighter wing for a year, the problem isn't "gas in the box". There's plenty. The problem is, available booms/drogues and ramp space. With traditional aircraft, you can only put one boom per aircraft. And even so, it is faster and more reliable than two drogues. So if we replace our smaller and more tactical sized airplanes with big jumbos, where do you park them (ramp space) and how long will boom cycle times increase too since the fighters will be having to choose from less tankers in the air?

The 777 is a good replacement of the KC-10, but not the KC-135. But the KC-10 still has a lot of legs in her left.

In the future, I think we'll see the DOD buy a mixture of tankers. For example, a 737, 767, and a 777 sized aircraft (note, size comparison only ... not the actual airframes themselves).
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Old 06-18-2009, 10:28 AM   #4  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KC10 FATboy View Post
With traditional aircraft, you can only put one boom per aircraft. And even so, it is faster and more reliable than two drogues.
Could you explain why 1 tanker with 2 drogues giving gas to two fighters simultaneously is slower at transferring gas as compared to one boom? Also, drogues less reliable than boom?

As a Navy guy I have only tanked off drogues and I never had any problems getting gas from a drogue (once I actually got in the basket).
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Old 06-18-2009, 11:22 AM   #5  
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I'll be the first in line to fly those 777's.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:10 PM   #6  
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Think about logging an M10 in a 777...I guess the Sim would be a pretty good alternative. Also think about the shop support, -135's are AF maintained, I wonder what the new Tanker will bring, deployed contract MX, that'll work out great.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:13 PM   #7  
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Default Trying to make it happen...

Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not far off base here. Boeing's initial bid of the 767 (for the most part... in actuality, it was a combination of several different Boeing aircraft) was directly designed to cater to the requirements stipulated by the Air Force. Once they were screwed over by the seemingly incompetent acquisition team, they essentially threw their hands up and said "we can convert whatever you want to a tanker. So here's a 757, 767 and 777 proposal." I know that there was a lot more to it than that. In fact, after the Airbus was picked--in the initial round--they had said that they wouldn't even submit a bid if they were to get another opportunity. In watching the Congressional Review on television, I can't say I blamed them! It was pretty embarassing to see the Air Force delegation (limited to the civilian-types TRYING to answer questions) illustrate their complete lack of knowledge when it came to Tanker capabilities and, more importantly, their own requirements that they had spelled out in the request for bids (eg when comparing capabilities of the "new" tanker to what it was replacing, they were using KC-135R and KC-135E interchangably). Hopefully, they've learned something since the last round, but I can only hope I'm not being overly optomistic.
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Old 06-18-2009, 12:17 PM   #8  
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The MPRS pods on the -135 are a maintenance nightmare. When I was in the northern sandbox we had I believe 3 MPRS jets (ie -135s with 2 drogue capability) and all of them had only 1 side working and we never got the parts as long as I was there. Also the system is alot slower then the boom, set up is a pain. Once its working it does ok, but it is slower then the boom and there are many many more maintenance costs involved as well.

So the theory of 2 fighters getting gas at the same time might sound great. The actual practice isn't working out so well.

To be honest I don't think the Air Force even knows what it wants. If that were the case we would have had this solved along time ago. Boeing should just fire up the 720 line again and start make -135s. Then the answer is simple make -135s to replace the -135s. I don't really think the planners in requisitions really give to craps about ramp space. The fact of the matter is that no matter who gets the bid the rate of 767/777/or scarebus to -135s is NOT going to be 1:1 that will become a moot point. Everyone should be used to the do more with less doctrine by now.
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:13 PM   #9  
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Default well put sir...

As you obviously know, this is a very complex issue that even people who fly/battle plan daily are continually improving. It would be nice to see them integrate some of those people into the process. Road shows are nice, but limiting inputs from the subject matter experts to "all call's" seems to be paying lip service to the real issues at hand. Don't get me wrong, I understand that it is a very complex issue. I won't pretend to have any expertise when it comes to acquisitions. For the time being, I'll just stick to reading up on my other additional duties: finance, mpf, etc...
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Old 06-18-2009, 03:27 PM   #10  
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Sliding into contact in an AC130 behind a loaded-to-the-gills KC-10 was no fun..imagine the turbies behind a 777? More than fighters are refueling these days.....and one day soon...UAVs will be. I don't think the 777 is the answer.
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