Boeing Still Coy on U.S. Tanker Design

 - June 13, 2011, 7:13 AM
The in-development Boeing KC-46A refuelling tanker will be based on the company’s KC-767 refueling tanker (shown).

Since winning the $4 billion contract from the U.S. Air Force for development and engineering of the KC-X refuelling tanker last February, Boeing has provided only generalities on the design of its KC-46A. Last week, during a series of media briefings in Philadelphia and St. Louis preceding the Paris Air Show, Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Defense & Space CEO, said, “We don’t do airplane design in the public realm.” But he did say that the new tanker was related to an as-yet undeveloped freighter version (designated 767-2C) of the 767-200ER.

Jean Chamberlin, vice president and general manager of the Boeing Military Aircraft Mobility Division, said more information will be forthcoming after completion of a systems requirements review, followed by an integrated baseline review planned in August. “At that time, we’ll have a complete understanding between ourselves and the United States Air Force on expectations with regards to the configuration of this aircraft and its performance, as well as the detailed integrated schedule that will allow us to deliver in 78 months 18 aircraft that are combat-ready. That’s the essence of our contract requirement,” said Chamberlin.

Boeing promises a “low-risk approach to manufacturing,” while incorporating a new digital flight deck based on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, “an advanced KC-10 boom with expanded refueling envelope” and fly-by-wire control system. Artists’ impressions no longer depict winglets.

The selection of Boeing’s platform over the EADS A330-based offering culminated a protracted, scandal-tainted competition that began as an Air Force plan to lease tankers from Boeing. While the $4 billion contract requires the delivery of 18 aircraft, the overall requirement to replace 179 aging KC-135 tankers is valued at $30 billion.

“Rest assured [the program] is going well, we’ve got a happy customer and we believe the taxpayer is getting a very good deal with the firm fixed-price contract we bid,” said Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft.