IAI tanker program advances

 - June 17, 2009, 9:46 AM

While Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS prepare to lock horns again for the U.S. tanker replacement program, one might be forgiven for thinking that there were only two sources for modern jet tankers. IAI’s Bedek Aviation Group would certainly disagree.

Bedek is a leading MRO and conversion house for a range of Boeing types (737-300/400, 767-200/300, 747-400), and it holds a number of supplemental type certificates for cargo and combi conversions. Bedek is also preparing a prototype 767-300 cargo conversion, which is due to fly in July or August, with delivery to the customer scheduled for November.

In the past Bedek undertook a successful tanker conversion program for the Boeing 707, for both the Israeli Defence Force and export customers. Combining this experience with its commercial 767 work made the choice of launching a 767-based tanker conversion an obvious one “Why would anyone buy a new aircraft?” asked Jack Gaber. IAI North America’s v-p for business development. “This is a much more cost-effective solution.” For a tanker modification 767s are first put through the cargo conversion, allowing the aircraft to act as a trooper and cargo transport, before the tanker equipment is installed. IAI has developed a flying boom for the centerline, and has designed and manufactured its own wing pods. For the earlier 707 tanker program Bedek used mainly Sargent Fletcher pods.

Bedek holds an STC for its 767-200 conversion, and Gaber sees this as a major advantage for its tankers. “It allows the aircraft to be flown under civilian rules to any airport in the world. You take the refueling equipment off and what is left is a capable passenger and freight transport,” he told AIN.

IAI calls its refueler the 767 MMTT (multi-mission tanker transport). The first order was announced just over a year ago. Although IAI refuses to comment on customers, it has been reported that the first aircraft is destined for Colombia. The single 767-200 is currently in the early stages of the conversion process, and is scheduled for delivery to the customer in the second quarter of next year.

With an aging fleet of KC-707 tankers, the Israel Defence Force is an obvious customer for the 767 MMTT, although IAI refuses to comment. There are numerous other opportunities around the world, many of whom cannot afford the price tag on a brand new KC-767 or KC-330.